When Erlynn Frankson was a teen, her grandfather moved in with her family so her mother could take care of him. “She was a nurse and the most equipped of her five siblings to be his caregiver,” says Frankson.
Frankson experienced palliative and hospice care on a personal level. It’s what she came home to after school every day and shaped who she is today. “I saw suffering and it stuck with me 10-20 years down the road.” But life, marriage, and raising a family temporarily delayed her pursuit of this calling.
Originally accepted into CU Pharmacy in 2010, Frankson postponed entry for four years until she felt her kids were ready. In the meantime, she spent her days volunteering in her children’s classrooms. “It wasn’t enough for me,” says Frankson. So, she tried a variety of opportunities and then found Denver Hospice where she rediscovered her passion. “I worked with one or two patients a week — reading to them, providing relief for their caregivers, listening to their stories and watching movies. It was very rewarding,” says Frankson.
Frankson and her husband knew that she wasn’t going to stay home forever. It was expected that she would continue her education. She received her biochemistry degree in 2007 and then started thinking about “what’s next?” As it turned out, pharmacy was her next stop.
She began the program in 2014 with some trepidation. “I was used to rolling out of bed, taking the kids to school and then back to bed for 1-2 hours.” Acclimating to pharmacy school was a challenge. She continues, “I felt old and that I didn’t belong. Then I found a group of students with similar life experiences and senses of humor and it all clicked.”
Then came her rotations where she saw the pharmacist’s role in several different settings. “I bugged Dr. Gilliam over and over again about hospice rotations. But there really weren’t any,” recalls Frankson. So, she cobbled together her own choice rotation where she was able to see a variety of settings including hospice, cancer and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). “Palliative care is the intersection of geriatrics, palliative care and hospice and that really appeals to me,” says Frankson.
According to Frankson, “People have been so helpful and accommodating. I’m getting exposure to a burgeoning field. It’s really exciting to see the opportunity. But there’s no real path, no guidelines to go by, and that’s what I like. I can create it myself.”
During her rotation, she shadowed inpatient and outpatient (palliative care) teams at University of Colorado Health and also conducted home visits. While at the ICU, she noticed that the care team seems “to treat the chart or the disease. Palliative care is intriguing because it focuses on really treating the patient as a person.” For Frankson, getting to know the patient, the family, and how, as a team, she can help get them through this challenging time is what attracts her. “It means making the patient the happiest they can be at the end versus continuing to treat and treat and treat. In medicine, you’re sworn to save lives. We don’t focus on the death side. I want to bring the quality of life back into a patient’s life at the end,” says Frankson.
Frankson’s last rotation of her fourth year has affirmed her focus on palliative care. Her final stop was at Collier Hospice under the guidance of Erin Jury, PharmD, BCGP. Similar to Frankson, Jury fell into the profession. First focusing on geriatrics and then working for a long-term care pharmacy followed by ambulatory care in a geriatric clinic and finally as a part-time pharmacist for Collier Hospice – Jury and Frankson are kindred spirits. The two met through Bob Davidson, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) whom Frankson approached about arranging an experience in a hospice center. He reached out to Jury and made the arrangements. “I was so impressed that she knew what she wanted. When I was in school, I didn’t have exposure to fields such as palliative care and hospice,” says Jury.
Jury encourages others to do what Frankson has done. “Expand your horizons. See what’s out there and create your own rotation. You never know, that might be your future path,” says Jury. And now that the University is offering a certificate and a Master’s degree in Palliative Care, both Frankson and Jury agree, “That opens up more opportunities that didn’t exist a few years ago.”
Upon graduation, Frankson will continue to direct her career as a PGY-1 resident at Duquesne University with a focus on geriatrics and long-term care. “I’m really excited because I will be able to work closely with ambulatory oncology,” says Frankson.