Personal, profound loss made Virginia Chang want to become an end-of-life doula.
After losing three loved ones in a seven-month period, Chang felt powerless, helpless, and grief-stricken.
“I was 52 years old and had not experienced any other deaths in my life. I really knew nothing about death or the dying process. I didn’t know what to expect, what death looked like, or what options to consider,” she says. “I realized I was a bystander in the process of losing my loved ones. I didn’t know what I could do or what I should do. I didn’t realize I had a choice.”
That feeling was the driving force for why she pursued UVM’s End-of-Life Doula Professional Certificate, an eight-week, online program developed in partnership with the UVM Larner College of Medicine.
In June 2017, Chang attended a talk given by Henry Fersko-Weiss, who created the first end-of-life doula program in the United States at a hospice in New York City, and cofounded the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA).
“Henry talked about end-of-life doulas. When I heard that, I thought, I wish someone had been there for me. To support me, to educate me, to provide resources, to tell me what my choices were, to have been available,” Chang says. “That role really intrigued me, and that was beginning of my journey.”
She completed INELDA’s end-of-life doula training, in addition to hospice training, and then enrolled in the UVM End-of-Life Doula program in August 2018.
Navigating the End-of-Life Process in UVM’s Death Doula Program
“At first, I was hesitant to take an online program, but I was very intrigued with the UVM program and its association with the UVM (Larner) College of Medicine,” Chang says. “UVM’s eight-week course was longer than many other organizations offering similar programs. I really felt like UVM would bring something additional to my already basic knowledge and experience—and it did.”
Chang credits the program’s instructors and curriculum with helping her understand the positive death movement and raising awareness about advocacy for the dying and their loved ones.
Last fall, she opened her own end-of-life doula practice—Till The Last—in New York City. As an end-of-life doula, Chang says the words “positive, meaningful, and affirming” describe how she approaches the end-of-life process.
“It’s how I support the dying, I don’t think of it as something sad or morose. I really try to bring in the attitude it can be positive, meaningful and affirming,” she says. “I try to instill meaning in everything I do, every step of the way. Being a doula gives me a sense of pride. It’s become part of who I am.”
Chang has found clients and also been approached by people who want to become a doula. Her advice is to have faith in the process and make time for self-care. She recommends volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, and being around the elderly and people who are sick and dying.
“That means it’s okay if you feel uncertain about becoming an end-of-life doula. Continue to learn, read, and explore what it means to become one. By investing time in the process, you’ll find out if it’s right for you,” she says.
Chang, who currently serves on the self-care committee at Visiting Nurse Service of New York to raise awareness and to educate hospice workers about self-care, emphasizes that being mindful of one’s own well-being is extremely important.
“Being an end-of-life doula is so much about being open and holding space in the midst of very intense emotions and grief,” she says “Self-care is very important, and it’s an overlooked aspect of being able to serve others.”
For anyone interested in becoming an end-of-life doula or understanding the complex process of death and dying, Chang says she highly recommends the UVM program.
“The program spends the time to delve into issues in a deep, thorough way that many other programs don’t have time for,” she says. “If you are self-motivated, willing to work, and you put in the hours, you’ll get so much out of the program. The added knowledge I gained and greater confidence I felt through the program allows me to serve the dying and their loved ones better.”
Chang joined the End-of-Life Doula community as an instructor in the program in the fall of 2021.
Learn more about UVM’s End-of-Life Doula Professional Certificate