Palliative care physician Erin Denney-Koelsch, M.D., who formed an interdisciplinary program to support expectant parents of babies not likely to survive, was honored with the 2018 Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award, a national award for physicians who care for people at the end of life.
One of five national recipients, Denney-Koelsch is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Palliative Care at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She accepted an early-career award on June 12 from Cunniff-Dixon Foundation founder Matthew Baxter. The Foundation annually awards three $15,000 early-career awards, and one senior and two mid-career awards of $25,000 each.
Denney-Koelsch earned her medical degree at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry where she also completed a residency in internal medicine and pediatrics, and a fellowship in hospice and palliative medicine. Colleagues supporting her award nomination praised her knowledge, insightfulness, integrity, and sensitivity in the face of difficult, complex situations.
“It’s remarkable that Erin overflows with such gifts and achievements so early in her career,” said Robert Horowitz, M.D., chief of the Division of Palliative Care and the Georgia and Thomas Gosnell Distinguished Professor in Palliative Care at URMC. “She’s a great clinician, smart, gracious, compassionate, efficient and generous; an enthusiastic and creative teacher of trainees at all levels; and a remarkably productive scholar with already a national, even international, reputation in perinatal palliative care.”
Renowned palliative care expert Timothy Quill, M.D., URMC professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, Medical Humanities and Nursing, was among those who endorsed Denney-Koelsch’s nomination. “Erin has a genuine ability to address the biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements of her patients’ illnesses, and because she has been trained in pediatrics as well as medicine, she understands that all illnesses affect the patient’s family as well as the patient, so her approach has always been multidimensional,” Quill said. “She is not afraid to address the most complex of clinical situations head on, and if she does not have clear answers herself, or if such answers do not exist, she is willing to engage herself and find others to help make the best possible decisions in the midst of the most daunting uncertainty.”
URMC has the distinction of being the only organization represented twice in the history of the Cunniff-Dixon Physician Awards. David Korones, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, Oncology and Neurology and chief of the Division of Pediatric Palliative Care won the 2015 Senior Physician Award.
“As the end of life nears, patients and families look to us for guidance, and Erin responds, striking a perfect balance between allowing her patients to reach the decision that is right for them but at the same time gently guiding them to that decision when they are looking for help and support,” Korones said in his recommendation of Denney-Koelsch. “We are blessed to have Erin as a member of our pediatric and adult palliative care teams. Her personal integrity is unparalleled and an inspiration to us all. She is so very richly deserving of this recognition, and will parlay it into even better care of her patients.”
Among her numerous professional activities, Denney-Koelsch is an Academic Palliative Medicine Council leader with the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, which is awarded for significant clinical, education and scholarship contributions to field of Palliative Care.
Other palliative care physicians honored this year are: Senior Physician—Gregg VandeKieft, M.D., Providence St. Peter Hospital, Olympia, Wa., and University of Washington School of Medicine; Mid-Career Physician—John M. Saroyan, M.D., BAYADA Home Health Care, Vermont and New Hampshire; and Early Career Physician—Jolion McGreevy, M.D., Boston Medical Center, and Jane Schell, M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Health System.
“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 Cunniff-Dixon Foundation, whose mission is to enrich the relationships of doctors and patients who are near the end of life, created and funds the awards. Prize recipients are selected by a committee convened by award co-sponsor The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute that has done groundbreaking work on end-of-life decision-making. Duke University Divinity School’s Program in Medicine, Theology, and Culture oversees the selection process.