30 Days, 30 Grads: Improving hospice is Uni alum's future goal

30 Days, 30 Grads: Improving hospice is Uni alum's future goal

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — During her sophomore year at Notre Dame, Petra Rantanen helped take care of her grandmother, who was nearing the end of her life.

It was during those months that Rantanen, a 2013 University High graduate, began to feel strongly that people in this country need better care when they reach that stage.

Not long after, she took a class on hospice care.

"That made me aware of it as a potential focus for my research," she said.

So as a junior, while studying abroad in the United Kingdom, Rantanen served an internship at Hospice UK, a charity in London that represents all of the country's hospices.

"I was able to see specifically where we could improve and how important it is to improve hospice care," she said.

From the personal experience she had with her grandmother to the professional experience in Europe, Rantanen, who will graduate from Notre Dame this weekend with degrees in sociology and pre-health studies, was inspired to write her senior thesis on hospice care.

She interviewed 17 physicians in the U.K. who specialize in hospice care, which further inspired her to continue on her pre-med path at Notre Dame.

"One of my biggest findings was how people's attitudes shift when they get to hospice. A lot of times, people have negative attitudes when they go to a hospice; they think that's where you go to die. They think the main physician is abandoning them and all these really dark things," she said. "Once they get to a hospice and they experience the care ... the hospice philosophy (in the U.K.) is they don't want to leave when it's time to be discharged."

Rantanen's plan is to attend medical school in the future and specialize in hospice care.

"There's a huge demand for it," she said. "The whole holistic nature of hospice care, it's not just looking at someone's lungs or their kidney or their heart. It's looking at the whole person and their family and their social environment."

Before she resumes her studies, Rantanen wants to work a year or two in service. She'll soon start as a house parent for Casa de Esperanza, a safe space for children in crisis due to the neglect and effects of HIV in Houston.

She has spent a good chunk of her time at Notre Dame preparing for a future in medicine, but that's not even Rantanen's favorite thing to do at school. She's also a member of Notre Dame's orchestra as a cellist.

"I've been playing the cello for 11 or 12 years now," said the co-president of Notre Dame's orchestra.

Rantanen has also participated in opera in addition to being a part of the school's celebration choir.

"I'm a terrible singer, but I've met a lot of close friends through that," she said.

Oh, and she's in Red Cross Club, which puts on events like blood drives and distributes fire alarms to folks around South Bend.

"We do stuff with veterans, too. It's a lot of fun." she said. "All these things I have been a part of have been a huge part of my experience here."

None of it comes as a surprise to the folks who knew her at Uni, where Rantanen was every bit as active as she is now.

"She was not only the first-chair cellist and not only good as a musician, but encouraging others to play and do well," said Rick Murphy, a music instructor at Uni. "She also was the head of our music club, and she sponsored a lot of recitals and events and occasionally went on trips.

"She was super bright, dedicated and also a nice young lady. We get spoiled with people like that here, but you never get tired of teaching students like Petra."

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