Alishia Parkhill

UMB Graduate School student in MS in Health and Social Innovation program uses personal experience with life-threatening illness to help those facing death.

This is the latest in a series from the University of Maryland, Baltimores (UMB) Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) highlighting a student, faculty, or staff member.

Alishia Parkhill is a student at the UMB Graduate School enrolled in the MS in Health and Social Innovation program with a concentration in Aging and Applied Thanatology. Upon completion of this program, Parkhill aims to create a self-sustaining social enterprise to support people in underserved communities facing death. She would help support those who are at their most vulnerable. Before starting the master’s program, she spent time as a senior leader in nonprofit management and is currently a consultant with various end-of-life organizations.

Sixteen years ago, Alishia was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Her experience battling this disease showed her how important it is to talk about end-of-life care is. She felt that medical professionals and family members were often afraid to speak in a forthright manner with patients about their prognosis and possible death. Her experience revealed that people often weren’t fully aware of how sick they were because vague or indirect language was used to talk about their condition. Parkhill’s future social enterprise would ensure people know their health status and can make informed decisions about their serious illness as well as their own death.

For people to have more candid conversations about death, there needs to be a culture shift, she says. Parkhill considers herself a patient advocate as part of the “death positive” movement that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding death. One way she helps to advance this cause is by taking part in “death cafes” that allow people to speak about the subject openly. She also spends time volunteering as a death doula who helps patients and families talk about and plan their end-of-life experience as well as help them make the most of the time they have left. Her goal is to narrow the gap in support people receive during birth and death by making support during death more accessible and assimilating it as part of our life experience.

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