Hospice and Palliative Medicine Visionaries: How They Inspire Others

Physicians, nurses, and researchers were voted the top 30 Visionaries in Hospice and Palliative Medicine, as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) celebrates its 30th anniversary.

To commemorate its anniversary, the Academy asked members to nominate individuals they considered to be the most influential leaders in hospice and palliative medicine, and then select their top 10 among the 142 nominees. In the end, more than 6,500 votes were cast. The final 30 were determined by a panel of past Visionaries which reviewed the top vote-getters. These individuals join an elite group of 30 additional visionaries who were recognized in 2012; new visionaries are identified once every five years.

Many common themes emerged in praise of the nominees – mentor, leader, big thinker – but there was also great variety in how Academy members described what these Visionaries did or do to advance the profession, citing them for their innovation, meaningful contributions, extraordinary vision and inspirational leadership. Some Visionaries were identified as individuals who significantly increased access to care within a region or community, while others shaped policy and practice on a national or international level.

So, here, in alphabetical order, are 30 hospice and palliative medicine Visionaries. I have included some of the comments that were submitted anonymously in support of each Visionary to give you a better idea of their contributions to the field.

Anthony L. Back, MD, Professor, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Co-Director, Center for Excellence in Palliative Care, University of Washington, WA

“He has pioneered palliative care communication training with simulation and feedback. His academic work, use of social media for education and culture change, and personal mentorship have impacted many of us in the field and beyond.”

J. Andrew Billings, MD, Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care, MA *

“A leader in palliative care education.”

David J. Casarett, MD MA FAAHPM, Chief of Palliative Care Services, Duke University Health System, NC

“He has published many research article and books on a wide range of important topics; is sought out as a speaker for national and international meetings, TED talks and national media, such as NPR.”

Eric J. Cassell, MD MACP, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, NY

“A wonderful guide in the nature of suffering.”

James F. Cleary, MD MBBS FAChPM, Associate Professor of Medicine, Medical Oncology Section and Director of Palliative Medicine, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics; Academic Medical Director, Agrace Hospice, WI

“He has passionately advocated internationally for the right for relief of pain. He has created programs, mentored clinicians in multiple disciplines and volunteered countless hours to organizations to advance the cause of palliative care globally.”

J. Randall Curtis, MD MPH, Director, Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence and Professor of Medicine, University of Washington, WA

“He is a tenacious, supportive, and effective mentor to many successful faculty and has been on the forefront of integrating palliative care within critical care, pulmonology and mainstream medicine.”

Constance Dahlin, MSN ANP-BC ACHPN FPCN FAAN, Director of Professional Practice, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association, PA

“She has led the field of palliative care for more than two decades – serving on many national boards, establishing policy, writing textbooks, teaching and serving as a steady mentor in each of these areas.”

Frank D. Ferris, MD FAAHPM, Executive Director, Palliative Medicine Research and Education, OhioHealth, OH

“His work has created systemic change in hospice and palliative medicine (HPM) policy, drug availability, HPM education, and access to HPM services in many places around the world. He is a kind and thoughtful leader and human being.”

Perry G. Fine, MD, Strategic Advisor, Capital Caring, Washington D.C.

“He is the “pain guru” of our time – a dedicated anesthesiologist whose vision for a coordinated and comprehensive system of care drives his passion for developing person-centered and economically sound innovations to simply improve care for those facing end-of-life challenges.”

Sarah E. Friebert, MD FAAP FAAHPM, Director, Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center, Akron Children’s Hospital, OH

“She developed the gold standard pediatric palliative care program in the country, and advanced the practice of pediatric palliative care through long standing advocacy on a national level with many organizations.”

Nahla Gafer, MD, Clinical Oncologist, Radiation and Isotopes Centre Khartoum (RICK), Sudan

“She is the founder of palliative care in Sudan and established the first palliative care unit and is one of few researchers in palliative care in the country.”

James L. Hallenbeck, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, CA

“He is one of the early visionaries of palliative care in the VA system, both in medical education and in program administration. As he has with so many of my generation, he inspired me to choose palliative care as a specialty.”

Arif H. Kamal, MD MBA MHS FAAHPM, Associate Professor of Medicine and Business Administration, Duke University, NC

“He has been a trailblazer in quality measurement and improvement in palliative care and his visionary approach has led to numerous recognitions, including an appointment to the National Quality Forum.”

Jean S. Kutner, MD MPH/MSPH FACP FAAHPM, Professor of Medicine, Division of Internal Medicine and Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, University of Colorado School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, University of Colorado Hospital, CO

“She is a founding co-director of the Palliative Care Research Cooperative and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee which recently published Dying in America.”

Joanne Lynn, MD MA, Director, Altarum’s Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, Washington D.C.

“She was an early leader in the hospice field and developer of the ‘surprise question.’ She has spent her life and career in service to improving care for people in the waning days of life.”

Mary Lynn McPherson, PharmD MA BCPS CPE, Professor and Executive Director, Advanced Post-Graduate Education in Palliative Care, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, MD

“She is a passionate, prolific and talented palliative care educator and has tirelessly championed the importance of appropriate medication therapy in patients with serious illness.”

Michael J. Nisco, MD MBA HMDC, Vitas Medical Director, San Francisco Bay Area, CA

“He has been a true pioneer in the development of palliative care programs and training hospice physicians, and has been a mentor to countless aspiring palliative care physicians internationally.”

Judith A. Paice, PhD RN FAAN, Director, Cancer Pain Program, Division of Hematology-Oncology and Research Professor of Medicine, Northwestern University, IL

“She is recognized and respected for her more than 35 years of improving the pain and suffering of patients and a leader in developing national clinical guidelines for pain and palliative care, especially in oncology.”


Christina M. Puchalski, MD MS FACP FAAHPM, Director, George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health; Professor of Medicine and Health Science, George Washington University, Washington D.C.

“She is a pioneer in spiritual care as a key aspect of palliative care and has had a major impact on medical education and national and international advances in spiritual care.”

Tammie E. Quest, MD FAAHPM, Director, Palliative Care Center for Woodruff Health Sciences Center and Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Emory University School of Medicine, GA

“She is a leader in promoting the role of palliative care in the ER.”

M.R. Rajagopal, MD, Director, Trivandrum Institute of Palliative Science and Founder and Chairman, Pallium India, India

“He is the father of palliative care in India.”

Christine S. Ritchie, MD MPH FAAHPM, Harris Fishbon Distinguished Professor in Clinical Translational Research and Aging, Division of Geriatrics, Department of Medicine,  University of California-San Francisco, CA

“She is an amazing and gifted leader who has been instrumental in charting a new course for palliative care nationally. She understands the strategic place of palliative care in population health, community settings, and among patients with multiple morbidities and chronic illness.”

Scott T. Shreve, DO, Director, Hospice and Palliative Care, Department of Veterans Affairs, PA

“He has systematically fostered the development of palliative care programs at all VA facilities paired with metrics that allow continued quality improvement.”

Christian T. Sinclair, MD FAAHPM, Assistant Professor, Palliative Medicine Division, Internal Medicine Department, University of Kansas Medical Center; Editor, Pallimed, KS

“He has led a generation of palliative clinicians into the field with his enthusiasm, inclusiveness and support. I, and many others, would not be as involved in the field without his influence.”

Thomas J. Smith, MD FACP FASCO FAAHPM, Professor of Palliative Medicine and Professor of Oncology, Johns Hopkins Medicine, MD

“He is instrumental in advancing collaboration between oncology and palliative medicine through writing, research, leadership and clinical excellence.”

Jennifer S. Temel, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Clinical Director, Thoracic Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, MA

“She is an internationally recognized leader regarding the integration of palliative care in oncology.”


Joan M. Teno, MD MS, Professor, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, University of Washington, WA

“She is a sought-after mentor and consultant and widely recognized as a giant of research in our field.”

James A. Tulsky, MD FACP FAAHPM, Chair, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, MA

“He has advanced our understanding of communication, illness experiences, and doctor-patient relationships for more than two decades and at every opportunity in his career, he has mentored and inspired the next generation of scholars and clinicians.”

Eric Widera, MD FAAHPM, Professor, Division of Geriatrics, University of California-San Francisco; co-founder, GeriPal and ePrognosis, CA

“He is an inspiring teacher, mentor and leader, who, through his innovative work in education and social media has increased awareness of palliative care.”

Joanne Wolfe, MD MPH FAAHPM, Chief, Division of Pediatric Palliative Care, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Director, Pediatric Palliative Care, Boston Children’s Hospital; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, MA

“She has been the voice for children with serious illness and their families. She is a great visionary in developing, implementing, teaching and mentoring.”


On behalf of the AAHPM staff, we extend our congratulations to all of the nominees and thank them for their continued commitment to improving the care of seriously ill patients and their families.

Steve Smith, MS CAE, AAHPM Executive Director and CEO

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