UA Center on Aging Awarded Grant to Continue End-of-Life Education with Medical Students

collage about Living Will Project, Lovell Foundation and AZPM original documentary, "Passing On"A segment of “Passing On,” an award-winning end-of-life film narrated by Scott Simon of NPR's “Weekend Edition,” focuses on the UA’s Living Will Project. The Arizona Public Media original documentary also was funded by the David and Lura Lovell Foundation.

The University of Arizona Center on Aging has been awarded a three-year grant valued at more than $28,500 from the David and Lura Lovell Foundation to advance awareness and education related to end-of-life issues for University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson students.

Lisa O'Neill, MPH, DBHLisa O’Neill, DBH, MPH, the UA Center on Aging’s associate director of research and education, thanked the foundation for its generosity. “We will create a sustainable program that will deeply resonate with our students and provide them the necessary skills to meet the end-of-life needs of our patients and their families,” she said.

Estimates indicate more than two-thirds of patients at the end-of-life do not have a discussion with their doctor about their final care wishes. Evidence suggests, however, that patients and families who are able to participate in discussions with their physicians about their preferences suffer less and are able to direct their care consistent with their goals and values. Living wills are the primary method available to ensure a patient’s wishes are respected.

In 2015, the UA Center on Aging, with funding from a small grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, initiated the Living Will Project. The program is designed to enhance medical students’ knowledge and comfort about end-of-life care, including advance directives and goals of care conversations. It engages students in a series of end-of-life care activities over four years, starting with each student writing their own living will. UA medical student Cara LevinUA medical student Cara Levin (speaking in film right) said after she filled out her own living will she understood why patients often lack their own—“it’s hard to think about, hard to put yourself in that situation.”

The Living Will Project was designed in close coordination with the UA College of Medicine – Tucson leadership and course instructors and has an advisory council comprised of faculty and students. It includes several structured components throughout the four years of medical school that build upon each other and are appropriate to the level of the student’s clinical experience.

In 2016, the David and Lura Lovell Foundation, along with the Marshall Foundation, helped fund an Arizona Public Media original documentary narrated by National Public Radio host Scott Simon on the project, “Passing On,” which won special Emmy® recognition from the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. A short segment of the film focuses on the Living Will Project and includes comments by Levin and other UA medical students.

The current David and Lura Lovell Foundation grant will enable continuation of the Living Will Project through the upcoming medical school curriculum redesign process. It will provide the necessary infrastructure support to design and implement a comprehensive evaluation program that will inform ongoing curriculum development and ensure success in the future.

The Living Will Project is instrumental in preparing the next generation of physicians to engage and guide patients and families in critically important end-of-life discussions. These physicians also will serve as role models for colleagues and help transform our health-care system to one that meets the complex end-of-life needs of patients, families and the larger community.

The project also supports goals of a $3 million grant the foundation and Community Foundation of Southern Arizona awarded on July for 10 nonprofit organizations participating as part of the End-of-Life Partnership with the Elder Alliance led by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. The UA Center on Aging is one of the alliance collaborators. Learn more about that grant here.

About the David and Lura Lovell Foundation
Over the past 23 years, the David and Lura Lovell Foundation awarded more than $14 million in grants to nonprofits for specific projects. Among business units at the University of Arizona Health Sciences that have received such grants are the UA Arthritis Center, UA Center for Integrative Medicine, the UA College of Nursing and the UA Center on Aging. Although the foundation is based in Tucson, Ariz., its reach has spread across the nation with a focus on mental health, integrative health and wellness, youth access to the arts and gender parity. A full list of programs funded can be found here. For more information, please call (520) 325-3656 or visit

“AZPM Film ‘Passing On’ Wins Emmy Recognition as NATAS 2016 Board of Governors’ Awardee” | Posted Aug. 12, 2016
“See ‘Passing On’ Before AZPM Film Airs Nationally on PBS” | Posted May 23, 2016

Release Date: 
08/21/2017 - 2:45pm