Children's Health

Medical Residents Now Educated about Caring for Chronically Ill Outside the Hospital

Pediatric resident physicians at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital are learning what it’s like for parents to care for a chronically ill or disabled child outside the hospital. Project DOCC (Delivery of Chronic Care) is a program designed to improve health care for children by providing education about the special needs of a chronically ill child from a parent’s perspective. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is the only hospital in Michigan offering Project DOCC.

“Project DOCC allowed me to see what parents with chronically ill children go through on a daily basis,” said Markeeta West, M.D., resident physician, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “The sacrifices they make, the loop holes they have to jump through to meet the needs of their children. I found it helpful to talk to parents because they were able to help me understand what I can do for them beyond routine hospital care. The program gives resident physicians a whole new perspective.”

Program components include:

  • Home visit – During the two hour visit, the resident physician meets with a host and visiting parent. The host parent conducts a tour of the home, demonstrates and discusses the daily activities and challenges in a home of a chronically ill child. The visiting parent provides a global perspective representing all families living with chronic illness or disability.
  • Parent interview on chronic illness history – The interview provides an opportunity for residents to meet one-on-one with a parent to ask questions to broaden their knowledge and give them a sense of the realities of a chronic condition.
  • Parent panel presentation – The Grand Rounds panel discussion highlights the journey of five parents coping with a chronically ill child.

“Project DOCC is an opportunity for residents to see a child and family in the context of their own environment,” said Jeri Kessenich, M.D., residency director, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “This allows them to better understand the day-to-day needs of the family, how to better advocate for families and to learn themselves about the unique parenting challenges these families face. Every resident who has completed the program has a newfound respect for parents and siblings of chronically ill children.”

Many children go to the hospital once or twice in their life. For others, chronic illness dictates their life and requires frequent hospitalization. Four-year-old Allison Woodhouse is one of those children. She has spent more than 200 days in the hospital because of cystic fibrosis. Her endless therapy appointments, breathing treatments and medications were a driving force behind bringing Project DOCC to Grand Rapids. Allison’s mom, Paula, serves as a Project DOCC parent coordinator and vice chair, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Family Centered Care Advisory Committee.

“Caring for a child in a hospital is completely different than caring for a child at home,” said Paula Woodhouse. “It provides endless challenges on a daily basis. Establishing Project DOCC gives residents a snapshot of what life is like when the health of your child impacts everything a family does. We have a completely different parenting experience than most. We must pack three bags just to run an errand, need a wheelchair lift and are unable to enjoy a date with a spouse longer than three hours. Our parenting experience is different than most.

Family-centered care is a key strategy at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. It’s carried out through programs like Project DOCC.

“Project DOCC introduces resident physicians to the idea of parents and resident physicians being partners in child’s health care,” added Woodhouse. “Parents of chronically ill children know more medical information than most parents could imagine. We are passionate advocates for our children.”

Project DOCC is part of pediatric residency training programs at more than 20 medical centers across the United States, as well as in Australia. It has trained hundreds of family members to act as family faculty, teaching physicians through home visits, parent interviews, and panel presentations. Project DOCC was founded in 1994 by Donna Appell, Maggie Hoffman and Nancy Speller. Learn more at