From age 15, Tulsan Joanna George provided primary care for her grandmother, which was drastically different from the daily life most teenagers know. Her daily routine included feeding and diapering an older adult. George said, “At times my schedule giving care felt like a liability, but I loved my grandmother very much.”
From that love George found a career, mission, and passion for geriatric medicine that her supervisors in academia discovered held a unique insight into their dataset because of her lived experiences as a caregiver. This also empowered her to advocate for other caregivers by talking openly about her own challenges with caring for a medically frail adult.
As a result, George was just awarded a scholarship by the Jean Griswold Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Griswold Home Care, an in-home senior care franchise, which launched a National Caregiver Scholarship Program to award scholarships to qualified caregivers across the country looking to embark on a career in care.
George graduated from Jenks High School and the University of Tulsa with some graduate work and is currently enrolled as a first-year medical student at the Oklahoma State University College of Medicine.
“During my last year at graduate school, I was able to participate in research with the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Gerontology Department. It was very special to me to take my life experience and advocate for other caregivers by talking openly about challenges with caring for a medically frail adult,” George said.
She has also volunteered with a local hospice in their Emerging Music and Memory program. Music helps memory and, as she listened, patient stories inspired her to seek interdisciplinary training as a hospice chaplain in addition to her medical coursework.
George said, “My grandmother played a huge role in raising me, but she needed increasing physical assistance before I graduated from high school. I stepped into the role of her caregiver even though I didn’t really know what I was doing all the time. The experience sparked a passion for understanding how our health care system works and, ultimately, medicine and geriatrics.”
While her beloved grandmother is now passed, George said other family members also participated in her care.
“She was a precious part of all of us. She had four children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. Human life is worthy of investment at any age and my time with her grew not just a personal strength, but a professional strength for stepping into medicine,” George said.
“Experience taught that caregiving informs not just my perspectives as a researcher, but hopefully one day in patient care. As grandmother lost cognizance, it was unnerving at first, but then I realized that she was drifting in memories, and she would laugh and chat with people who were not present and she seemed more at ease. It became a gift when I understood her joy and it also transformed my relationship with Christ. There is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me’ and for the last ten years, I met Christ most significantly in her.
“One of the things I have enjoyed in making application for the scholarship is getting to know more about the history of Jean Griswold’s life and the Jean Griswold Foundation. They view aging and illness from a different perspective. Our society typically views aging, illness and even death as a medical event with a social component. But at its core, life is a social event with a medical component and that shift is seen throughout the Jean Griswold organization in their willingness to provide care beyond a medical perspective. How they invest in people providing care resonates with me. They invest in caregiver education to reduce burnout, to improve health and ultimately improve the lives of caregivers so they can improve the lives of people needing care,” George said.
Griswold Home Care was born from Dr. Jean Griswold’s firsthand understanding of folks’ need for in-home care. Now, 40 years later, the legacy Dr. Jean has left behind — a network of more than 168 independent franchise units in 29 states and a foundation in her name— continues her powerful perspectives.
About author: David Arnett was once a daily reporter covering City Hall for the Tulsa Tribune and has been a paid contributor for print and broadcast news teams. Arnett won two national awards as a First Amendment Print Publisher, founded Tulsa Today in 1996, served over seven years as public information officer in local public infrastructure programs, and hosted a Tulsa call-in radio talk show for a year. Arnett currently provides communications consulting for select clients. Arnett’s work is also found on arnett.substack.com which provides email distribution to subscribers.