Sarah E. Friebert, MD FAAP FAAHPM
Director, Pediatric Palliative Care, Akron Children’s Hospital, OH
Who has most influenced your work and what impact has he or she had?
I believe I was led into this work by those I’ve had the privilege of serving. In particular, two little boys, both named Andrew, were instrumental in shaping my early passion. Though they differed in age and diagnosis, both were wise beyond their years, incredibly tenacious and eerily perceptive. Their parents allowed me into their lives for several years as they each navigated the roller coaster ride of life-limiting conditions. And although they didn’t know each other, they independently told me in their own ways as they died that they’d be my guardian angels as I went on “to help other kids.” I still picture them accompanying me, one on each shoulder, as I meet a new family who lets me into their world. I hope I’ve honored their memories.
I’ve also been most fortunate to work for an absolutely visionary man who epitomizes the ‘spirit of service’ in every aspect of his life. Over his long-running tenure as our CEO, he has grown our enterprise from a small community hospital into an academic, integrated health care delivery system serving a large geography while remaining independent. Until recently when our numbers became too large, he knew the names of everyone who worked there, whatever their job. He delivers inspirational speeches extemporaneously and is equally at home with legislative officials and with two-year-olds. He amazes me with his ability to be a tough leader who makes the necessary decisions but maintains his consummate humanity and grace. I am trying to grow into a better leader by asking myself, “What would Bill do?” when faced with a difficult issue. He is truly a remarkable role model and I am blessed to have been allowed to develop our program under his leadership.
What does it mean to you to be named a Visionary in Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
When I made my first forays into this field as a medical trainee, I was told by a trusted mentor that I would be throwing away my academic career if I chose to focus on hospice and/or palliative care. Others told me that I was abandoning “real medicine” for “glorified social work.” I am proud to be among colleagues – peers, forerunners, and those yet to enter the discipline – who have been and will be trend-setters in establishing and growing this incredible, fulfilling discipline. This community is full of thoughtful, engaged, collaborative, groundbreaking professionals of all disciplines, who inspire me greatly every day. In my own small way, I have tried to follow Desmond Tutu’s challenge to “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” To be named a Visionary is both validating of the choice I made to spend my life in hospice and palliative medicine, as well as humbling to be in the company of so many great people I admire.
What is your vision for the future of Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
My vision for the future is that every person who could benefit from palliative care and/or hospice will have immediate access to superb care no matter where in the world they live, how old they are, what condition(s) they suffer from, what language they speak, what insurance coverage or financial resources they have, or any other potential barrier. To accomplish this lofty ideal will take continued efforts in multiple domains, including: enhanced education and training; enhanced credibility for the field, both from within (with impeccable attention to quality and research) as well as from outside of the discipline; appropriate and prioritized funding for programs and for the people to run them; and ongoing prioritization of self- and team-based care to create a resilient and sustainable workforce representing all disciplines. Together, we have accomplished so much already, and I believe the future is bright.
Sarah E. Friebert is one of 30 individuals who have been named a Visionary in Hospice and Palliative Medicine by AAHPM for their 30th Anniversary in 2018. Learn more about the Visionary recognition and view a list of all current and past Visionaries.