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PRESS RELEASE 4-13-2018: Five Physicians Honored for Exemplary Care of Patients Nearing the End of Life

Leaders in palliative care have been selected to receive the 2018 Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Awards.

A physician who founded a pediatric palliative care program and another who developed a nationally recognized curriculum to improve communication between doctors and patients with advanced kidney disease are among the five recipients of the 2018 Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Awards.

The awards totaled $95,000: a senior award and a mid-career award of $25,000 each and three early-career awards of $15,000 apiece. Each recipient has made outstanding contributions in one or more of four areas: medical practice, teaching, research, and community.

The Cunniff-Dixon Foundation, whose mission is to enrich the relationship of doctors and patients who are near the end of life, created and funds the awards. The Hastings Center cosponsors the awards. Duke University Divinity School’s Program in Medicine, Theology, and Culture oversees the selection process.

“These physicians have been making a real difference to patients and their families during times of profound need,” says Mildred Z. Solomon, president of The Hastings Center. “In addition to great compassion and communications skills, they have demonstrated leadership abilities that are making significant and lasting improvements in end-of-life care in their institutions and communities.”

The 2018 recipients are:

Senior Physician Award: Gregg VandeKieft, MD, MA, medical director for palliative care, Providence St. Peter Hospital, Olympia, Wa., and clinical associate professor of family medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. He expanded several palliative care programs in southwest Washington, including in rural areas where few existed. Dr. VandeKieft was recognized for exhibiting exceptional talent for compassionately communicating with patients, families, and fellow physicians, including about physician-assisted death, which is legal in Washington State. “Palliative care isn’t about the end of life, it’s about the fullness of life, and allowing people to live it as fully as possible,” reflects Dr. VandeKieft on his practice.

Mid-Career Physician Award: John M. Saroyan, MD, FAAP, FAAHPM, HMDCB, hospice medical director, BAYADA Home Health Care, Vermont and New Hampshire. He was commended for his expertise in pediatric palliative care and hospice care, helping patients of all ages and their families make end-of-life decisions that align with their values. Under his medical leadership, the BAYADA Hospice Program has tripled in size. “To deliver the best care possible to his patients, Dr. Saroyan goes to great lengths investing in his local communities through active collaboration with physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and social service organizations,” wrote his nominator.

Early-Career Physician Awards:

Erin Denney-Koelsch, MD, FAAHPM, assistant professor of medicine, department of medicine, division of palliative care, University of Rochester Medical Center. Seeing a need to support expectant parents of babies not likely to survive, Dr. Denney-Koelsch put together an interdisciplinary team to provide counseling for them. “Just seven years out of her fellowship,” wrote her nominator, “Dr. Erin Denney-Koelsch has already had a remarkable impact on the field of palliative care, both locally and nationally.”

Jolion McGreevy, MD, MBE, MPH, director of undergraduate medical education and assistant residency director, emergency medicine, Boston Medical Center. Working at the largest safety-net hospital in New England, Dr. McGreevy has distinguished himself with the ability to engage underserved patients with limited knowledge of end-of-life care options and decision-making. His nominator praised him for “working tirelessly to address the disparities our patients face” and providing “compassionate and culturally competent care to each and every one of his patients.”

Jane Schell, MD, FNKF, assistant professor in nephrology and palliative care, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Health System. Dr. Schell has demonstrated a commitment to improving the care of seriously ill patients with kidney disease. She developed NephroTalk, a nationally recognized curriculum for nephrology fellows that provides tools for having difficult conversations with patients and families, including those that occur near the end of life.

The prize recipients were selected by a committee convened by The Hastings Center and chaired by Richard Payne, MD, the Esther Colliflower Professor of Medicine and Divinity at Duke University and the John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics at the Center for Practical Bioethics, and a member of The Hastings Center’s board of directors. In addition to Dr. Payne, the committee members are Thomas P. Duffy, MD, of Yale University; Kathleen M. Foley, MD, of Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and Diane E. Meier, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.