PUBLISHED:March 11, 2021

Cancer Pro Bono Project gets a new name, a new platform to help more clients


Health Care Planning Project will offer all services virtually and will provide assistance for more people in need of advanced directives, powers of attorney, and other health-care planning documents.

The Cancer Pro Bono Project has a new name and a new virtual platform that is enabling it to continue serving clients during the pandemic.

Alison Rice conducts a training for the Health Care Planning Project
Alison Rice conducts a training for the Health Care Planning Project.

The student-led group has been renamed the Health Care Planning Project and it will now offer services to clients facing a variety of health issues who need assistance with advanced care planning, such as preparing a power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, or advanced directive.

“Traditionally, we served our clients in person at Duke's Cancer Center,” said Flora Sheppard ’22, a student leader who serves as the client-facing coordinator. “To meet today’s need for social distancing, we will provide our pro bono services entirely through a virtual platform. We are hopeful that a virtual format will allow for greater flexibility and expand the base of clients we can assist.”

Clinical Professor Allison Rice, the supervising attorney for the project and the director of the Health Justice Clinic, said that the Office of Public Interest & Pro Bono, with help from the N.C. Bar Foundation, contracted with a vendor to create an online tool to conduct interviews and create the appropriate documents for health care planning.

“Clients will be seen online via Zoom or by phone,” she said. “As in the past, two students and a supervising volunteer attorney will participate in each session. Because everything is online, for some clients it will be easier to access services because they won’t have to be physically at the Duke Cancer Center or the Law School.”

The project helps clients create powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and health care powers of attorney. Student volunteers and the supervising attorney use Zoom’s screen-sharing capability to walk clients through completing the documents, explained Fleming Farrell ’22, a student leader who serves as the supervising attorney-facing coordinator. At the end of each session, clients receive instructions for signing and notarizing the documents to ensure they are legally binding.

Not only does this virtual setup help clients who may already be medically vulnerable stay safe, but it also allows the pro bono project to help more people.

“The virtual setting provides the volunteers with more flexibility regarding scheduling, and we added another volunteering window on Monday evenings,” said Farrell, who explained that previously, sessions were only scheduled every other Friday. “The volunteer attorneys also have more flexibility because they are no longer required to take a half-day off and physically travel to the Cancer Center.”

The project will also serve clients other than those who are patients at the Cancer Center. Shephard said the project will take applications from any low-income North Carolina resident interested in advance care planning.

“We hope to utilize the virtual platforms even after the pandemic has passed,” Shephard said. “The remote setting helps to make our services more accessible to both the clients and our volunteers. In the future, we are considering a combination of remote and in-person volunteering sessions for our clients.”

Recently, 16 students completed training to work on the project. Carrie Wang ’22, who serves as the student-facing coordinator, said the training takes about five to seven hours to complete.

“All student volunteers must complete the trainings, which involves pre-recorded videos explaining the basic overview of the forms, a comprehensive quiz to examine volunteers' proficiency on the material, and a live training to answer students’ questions and tour the application used for virtual volunteering,” Wang said. “Additionally, all student volunteers must sign a professional pledge, pledging that they understand the client-serving protocols and will act professionally.”

She added that students can also schedule extra sessions to practice with the application before starting to serve clients.

“We remain committed to helping our clients ensure their voices are heard,” Wang said.