UNK’s History M.A. alumna Sara Jane Ruggles helps people on hospice share their final story

Posted: June 24, 2024 2:00:00 PM CDT

Woman in white shirt with a gray blazer standing in front of a sign that reads, "Universite Du Luxembourg."

“The most personal thing that someone can give you is their story,” University of Nebraska at Kearney’s 2019 online History M.A. alumna Sara Jane Ruggles said. “And in hospice, it's the last thing they're able to give.” 
For the past two and a half years, Ruggles has worked for Auburn Crest Hospice in Bonners Ferry and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. As the nation’s first public historian working in healthcare, she has helped 55 individuals in hospice whose ages ranged from nine to 106 share their life story through oral history. 
UNK’s online Master of Arts in History equipped Ruggles with the skillset to research the individual through communicating with family, friends, and other hospice team members and conducting intimate interviews with the individuals on hospice. She then shares the audio or video record of the individual’s story with the family completely free of charge. 
“I've had lots of families come back and say, ‘You gave me an hour with my mom,’” she said. “For families to come back and say, ‘This is a gift.’ That means I've thoroughly done my job so their story will not be a game of telephone throughout the generations.” 
Group photo of nine women and one man with lanyard name tags on smiling at the camera.

Individual’s families aren’t the only to benefit from Ruggles work. She has also seen her interviewees reflect and find meaning in their life through fondly recalling their achievements and memories. 
“Watching somebody remember who they are and come to life through a conversation, it gives you goosebumps every time,” Ruggles said. 
Those goosebumps are spreading world-wide. 
In April of 2023, UNK Associate Professor of History Dr. Will Stoutamire, Ruggles, and other medical and history professionals participated in a panel at the National Council on Public History in Atlanta, Georgia to share the importance of a historian working in a healthcare facility. 
A woman in a white blouse and grey blazer stands in front of a long rectangular table. Ten people are seated around the table listening to her presentation. The woman at the front of the table is gesturing at a slideshow being presented on a TV.

Luxembourg University Associate Professor and Chief Scientist 2 of Contemporary and Digital History Dr. Thomas Cauvin was one of many to attend the panel. After returning home to Europe, he invited Dr. Stoutamire and Ruggles to Luxembourg to share their insights with European faculty and medical professionals in hopes to collaborate on a research study. 
“I actually called Will,” Ruggles said after receiving the email. “I was like, ‘This is real, right? This isn't like a like a scam email?’” 
The email was not a scam, and Ruggles made the more than 16-hour flight to Luxembourg in January of 2024 to share her passion with the rest of the world.  
Ruggles’ two-hour presentation included Dr. Stoutamire, Luxembourg University’s history and nursing faculty, the university’s grant writers, a local nonprofit assisted living organization, and University of Sheffield Director of Student Recruitment for School of Allied Health Professions, Nursing and Midwifery Dr. Michelle Winslow. 
A side view of a woman wearing black slacks and a grey blazer giving a presentation with a slideshow being shown on a TV screen behind her. There is a table in front of her with an open laptop on it and she has her hands out in front of her in a gesture.

It is not every day that one gets to meet their hero. Ruggles got that opportunity when she met Dr. Winslow, who has led England’s University of Sheffield’s Oral History Group for many years, which focuses on oral history in the healthcare system. 
Ruggles is in communication with Luxembourg University, and hopes to return soon to begin working with the international group on designing a research study on the neurological, psychological, and psychosocial benefits found in hospice patients who share their stories through oral history.
“I'm still pinching myself because I don't know why I'm the person that's lucky enough to follow their passion and not only make a living with it, but watch it benefit people in the way I want to bless the world,” she said.  
She credits the constant support she has received from day one. 
“Between my family, UNK, Auburn Crest - every step of the way I'm lucky enough, I’ve had people believing in me,” Ruggles said.

By: Heidi Knake

Category: Graduate Studies, UNK Online, General

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