I want to express my sincere gratitude to the organizers and sponsors of the seventh annual Kathleen M. Foley Palliative Care Retreat and Research Symposium. This was my second time attending the retreat designed to provide a forum for interdisciplinary palliative care researchers. Participants include grant recipients from the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) and American Cancer Society (ACS), research scholars of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), as well as other leaders in the field of palliative care. Once again, the meeting lived up to its reputation as one of the best for learning, collaborating, and developing new ideas.
Let me back up. I am a junior investigator with aspirations of becoming an independent palliative care physician-scientist. During the weeks prior to this year’s retreat, I had what was probably the first of many internal debates about my career choices. Let’s face it: academic medical careers can be daunting. I was struggling to reconcile my sheer conviction in my research with the realities of the current funding climate, personal fears of failure, and work-life balance. Put bluntly, I needed community and I needed inspiration.
Within minutes of the welcoming remarks, I thought, “Oh yes. HERE are my people. HERE is my inspiration.” And, that the sense of community and inspiration just kept coming. Whether it was the opening, middle, or closing plenary, I was glued to my seat, fascinated by the research (and frantically scribbling notes in the fancy notebook supplied by the venue). I watched my mentor (the incredible Joanne Wolfe) accept the American Cancer Society’s Pathfinder Award with grace, humility, and humor. She reminded me that all of us have similar struggles, but we also find great joy and gratitude in our work. During my own work-in-progress presentation, I solicited and received dozens of helpful comments and suggestions for continuing and expanding my own research projects. (In fact, I discovered yet another challenge in academic medicine: reigning in my own enthusiasm.) During a break-out session for pediatric palliative care researchers, we shared mutual pitfalls and successes in our research endeavors, providing yet more perspective of how to navigate my own career development. And, on top of everything else, I met several of my role models and other respected leaders in the field. I left with a renewed sense of commitment.
In retrospect, I realize the Kathleen Foley retreat has (again) succeeded in exactly what it aims to do. It provided a young investigator with a sense of community, inspiration, and purpose. I have no doubt the more senior investigators would say the same. I say again to the organizers and sponsors: “Thank you for this incredible opportunity.” I am already looking forward to the next one.
Abby R. Rosenberg, MD, MS (2012 AAHPM Scholar)