Hospice and Palliative Medicine Visionary Atul Gawande Shares His Insights on the Field

In celebration of 25 years serving the profession, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) asked its 5,000 members to nominate who they think are the leaders – or Visionaries – in the field. They then asked members to vote for the top 10 among the 111 nominated.

“This program recognizes key individuals who have been critical in building and shaping our field over the past 25 years,” noted Steve R. Smith, AAHPM executive director and CEO. “These individuals represent thousands of other healthcare professionals in this country that provide quality medical care and support for those living with serious illness — each and every day.”

The Visionaries – 14 women and 16 men – are physicians, nurses and hospice pioneers such as British physician, nurse and social worker Cicely Saunders, credited with starting the modern hospice movement, and Elisabeth Kübler Ross, author of numerous books including the groundbreaking “On Death and Dying.” Five elected officials were nominated and one of them, former President Ronald Reagan, was named a Visionary for signing into law the Medicare hospice benefit in 1982.

Many of the visionaries will be sharing their thoughts about the field and who inspired their work. We’ll be posting them over the next several months. Today’s post is from Atul Gawande, MD, Associate Professor, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

Who has most influenced your work and what impact has he or she had?
As a writer, and someone who tries to think hard about how to practically improve our systems of care, it’s been the voices of my patients and many many leaders in hospice and palliative care who have shown what better really can look like.

What does it mean to you to be named a “Visionary” in Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
It’s a bit embarrassing, really, and an exaggeration, given that I am an outsider and nonexpert in palliative medicine. But it is gratifying. I always hope I can connect and offer credible ideas, and it means a lot to know I have.

What is your vision for the future of hospice and Palliative Medicine?
It is the one I learned from your own members: that being a good clinician for those with incurable disease is to understand that sacrificing time now for the sake of possible time later can be profoundly harmful. At that point, our most important work is helping people achieve the best possible day they can today, and everyday that they may have remaining.

More information on the Visionaries project, including the list of 30 Visionaries is on the Academy’s website www.aahpm.org.

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