Sarah Elizabeth Harrington, MD FAAHPM – Inspiring Hospice and Palliative Medicine Leaders Under 40

This post is from one of the Inspiring Hospice and Palliative Medicine Leaders Under 40. Sarah Elizabeth Harrington, MD FAAHPM, was selected based on her involvement in AAHPM, educating others about hospice and palliative medicine, participation in charitable work, and mentoring of students or residents. The honoree was then asked who inspired her over the course of her career. We are sharing some of her answers in this post. Check back regularly for posts from other leaders.

Who has most influenced your work in hospice and palliative medicine and what impact has he or she had?
This is a hard question to answer, because I have been fortunate to learn from so many “trailblazers” in this field. Dr. Reed Thompson at UAMS first introduced me to hospice and end-of-life care when I was a medical student. He demonstrated how to infuse humanity and compassion into medical practice, and made a significant impression on me and my career path. I will be forever thankful for his mentorship and confidence in me. I can’t say enough about the Palliative Care Program at VCU Medical Center where I trained as a fellow. Dr. Tom Smith, Dr. Laurie Lyckholm, Pat Coyne APRN and all of the VCUHS Palliative Care staff shaped the practicing physician I am today. Not only did I learn the practice of palliative medicine, I was able to learn leadership, work-life balance, and program development from this amazing group of clinicians. I am also grateful for opportunities to have mentors like Drs. Susan Block, Diane Meier, and David Weissman through the Academy. Those of us who have found success in this field have many people to thank for their vision, perseverance, and willingness to teach along the way.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope to see myself continuing to grow the palliative care program at UAMS and the VA. I enjoy practicing in an academic medical center, and find educating students and house staff the truly “fun” part of my job. It’s a challenging and exciting time in medicine, and I see so many opportunities to improve palliative care access and education. Areas like telemedicine are increasing in our predominantly rural state, and I think that is a place where palliative care can reach a number of patients and families.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Relationships first” and “it’s not about you” go hand-in-hand as the best advice I’ve received. The longer I’ve practiced in this field, the more I’ve come to appreciate these simple truths. There is value in being humble and coming to work with open hands. It is worth your time to build relationships with referring providers and to practice good consult etiquette. Thank the nursing staff on a regular basis, know the name of the housekeeper on the unit, bring breakfast to IDT meetings, and do something every day that demonstrates gratitude. Better relationships result in better communication and care for patients and families.

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