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DHMC appoints expert in end-of-life care

Ira Byock, physician and author, is a recognized authority

Published January 12, 2004; Category: DHMC/DMS

An internationally renowned leader on ethics and end of life care has joined the staff of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). Ira Byock has been appointed Director of the Palliative Medicine Service at the Medical Center.

Byock, 51, comes to the Medical School and Medical Center from Missoula, Montana, where he co-founded and was principal investigator of Life's End Institute: Missoula Demonstration Project, a community-based research and quality improvement organization focused on end-of-life experience and care. He was also the Director of The Palliative Care Service in Missoula a clinical and teaching practice.

"Caring for people during these most difficult times of life can be a richly satisfying aspect of clinical practice."

Ira Byock

Nationally, Byock directs the Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care national grant and technical assistance program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"The issues around end of life care and achieving death with dignity and peace, are hugely complex and critically important," said David Glass, Chair of Anesthesiology at DHMC. "We are extremely fortunate to have a person of Dr. Byock's caliber come to Dartmouth to lead our palliative care practice and our discussions and deliberations around these issues."

Byock said that Dartmouth is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking medical centers in the country.

"The palliative care program and team here are strong," he said. "There is an unprecedented opportunity to work across a variety of disciplines and settings within DHMC and affiliates to integrate a team approach to comfort and quality of life throughout the continuum of care for people with advanced illness and their families."

Byock, who will have a dual appointment as a faculty member at Dartmouth Medical School, said he is excited by the prospect of working with medical students, residents, and fellows on these issues. "When I was a medical student, death was considered a failure. Care of dying patients wasn't part of our curriculum; it was relegated to nurses. Thank goodness for the nurses! They taught some of us who were willing to learn.

"Over the years I found that caring for people during these most difficult times of life can be a richly satisfying aspect of clinical practice. I am excited to teach and mentor students at all levels of training, helping them develop the knowledge base and skills required to help people die well."

He adds, "As clinicians we must not abandon patients who are dying. Similarly, teachers must not abandon medical students in this realm of clinical practice. "

Byock's first book, Dying Well (Putnam, 1997) has become the authoritative work on the subject. He has since co-authored A Few Months to Live (Georgetown University Press, 2001), and co-edited Palliative and End-of-Life Pearls, a collection of clinical case studies. In March, the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster will publish The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living, which the Free Press calls "a life-altering book about what really matters in living today."

Byock is joined at Dartmouth by his wife, Yvonne Corbeil, who will also work in the Palliative Medicine section at DHMC. Corbeil was Assistant Director of Palliative Medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal from 1981 to 1996 before moving to Missoula and working with The Life's End Institute.

By DEBORAH KIMBELL

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Last Updated: 12/17/08