Hospice and Palliative Medicine Visionary Eduardo Bruera 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 Eduardo Bruera, MD FAAHPM, Professor of Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

Who has most influenced your work and what impact has he or she had?
I was very fortunate to learn the principals and practices of whole person medicine from my father. He was a cardiologist who made home visits on a regular basis and I was able to learn a lot from his example. Dr. Neil McDonald mentored me during my early years as a fellow and junior faculty and taught me unforgettable lessons about medicine, academic and administrative issues, and demonstrated by his behavior and guidance how it is possible to be at same time an academic and administrative leader and to be a highly ethical person. Dr. Vittorio Ventafridda over the years taught me great lessons about what palliative care should be and he always insisted on the importance of taking our discipline to academic centers in the United States.

What does it mean to you to be named a “Visionary” in Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
There is no greater honor than being recognized by my peers. Over the years I have followed the teachings of our pioneers and tried to contribute to our field with research and education on how to assessment and manage common clinical problems in the delivery of palliative care. I have enormous respect for everyone working in this difficult field. In my view, palliative medicine specialists represent the essence of what medical care should be. This recognition is for me a challenge to do more and better work on their behalf.

What is your vision for the future of hospice and Palliative Medicine?
Every academic hospital and medical school will have a fully established palliative medicine department with full time palliative medicine specialists and an inpatient palliative care unit. Every hospice in the United States will have full time palliative medicine specialist medical directors and medical staff. Palliative medicine will be one of the main components of medical care, education, and research.

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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