Back to the Future – Fulfilling the Promise of Human Caring

Ira Byock, MD, FAAHPM
Founder and Chief Medical Officer
The Institute For Human Caring

It’s said that hindsight is 20/20. Now, in the year 2020 Dr. Byock invites us to look back at the founding values and qualities of our field and envision a bright future of hospice and palliative care. Dame Cicely Saunders committed us to giving the best of our minds and hearts to caring for whole persons. She coined the term “total pain,” suffering that extends beyond physical distress to encompass emotional, social and spiritual misery. By definition, our field is dedicated to alleviating suffering caused by advanced illness and improving people’s quality of life. Our founders embedded qualities of clinical excellence, compassion, hospitality, fairness, as well as research to continually improve the quality of our services.

For over half a century our field has expanded and evolved. We have wrestled with public misconceptions, statutory and regulatory restrictions and profit motives. We still do. Today we know that at our best, our care not only alleviates suffering, but also preserves people’s ability to live as fully as possible through the very end of life and to die well in the context of family and community. These are not merely abstractions or aspirations; this is authentic human caring. This our heritage. It can and must be our future.

Ira Byock, M.D., FAAHPM is a leading medical authority and public advocate for improving care through the end of life.

Dr. Byock is an acknowledged visionary and pioneer in palliative care who has made important contributions as a clinician, author and educator.

He is founder and serves as chief medical officer of the Institute for Human Caring, a component of Providence St. Joseph Health. The Institute drives transformation in clinical systems and culture to make caring for whole persons the new normal. The Institute for Human Caring’s change strategies produce measurable and scalable improvements in health care quality and efficiency.

Dr. Byock has been involved in hospice and palliative care since 1978. His research has contributed to conceptual frameworks for the lived experience of illness along a continuum from suffering to wellbeing; measures for subjective quality of life during illness; and counseling methods to support life completion. He is a past president of the Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. From 1996 to 2006 he directed Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care, a national Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program that developed prototypes for concurrent palliative care of people with life-threatening conditions. From 2003 through July 2013, he directed the palliative medicine program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. He continues to be an active emeritus professor of medicine and community & family medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

Dr. Byock has authored numerous articles in academic journals. His first book, Dying Well, (1997) has become a standard in the field of hospice and palliative care. The Four Things That Matter Most, (2004) is widely used as a counseling tool within palliative care as well as pastoral care. The Best Care Possible (2012) tackles the crisis that surrounds illness and dying in America and the transformation that is possible.

Dr. Byock lectures nationally and internationally. He has been a featured guest on national television and radio programs, including CBS’ 60 Minutes (on three separate occasions), PBS News Hour, Fox and Friends, and NPR’s All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and On Being.

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