What is your favorite part of your workday?
At the start of every team meeting, we talk about patients whom we’ve cared for who died in the previous week. We reserve this time to talk about that person as a whole person, not just as a patient. And this is the time that I hear stories not just about the patients who we care for, but also about the incredible members of the team who care for them. I never cease to be amazed by the skill, compassion, inventiveness and abiding good humor of my teammates who work in hospice and palliative medicine.
What one piece of advice do you wish the loved ones of someone facing a serious illness would take to heart?
When giving safety instructions at the beginning of every flight made in this country, the flight attendant always says something like, “If you’re traveling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, and then offer assistance.” The same kind of advice applies to the loved ones of those facing a serious illness. The things that might sound like “indulgences” during a crisis—sleeping well, eating well, getting some fresh air, going to a movie, going out for coffee and so on—can be critically important for patients’ family members and friends. Caregiver burnout is real, and staving it off however you can is the opposite of indulgence. It’s resilience training, and it matters for everyone.
What is the most common misconception about palliative medicine?
I think the most common misconception for patients, families and health care providers alike is that when it comes to medical care in the face of serious illness, we think we have to trade quality of life for quantity of life. But this just doesn’t seem to be the case. There’s a growing body of data that suggests that patients who receive palliative care, including hospice care when medically eligible, don’t just “live better.” They also live longer. For a lot of people, this is really surprising, because it flies in the face of everything we’ve thought for many years.