Friday, September 11, 2015
Our field of palliative care lost one of our great educators when Dr. Andrew Billings died this week. Thankfully, he was a great mentor and teacher to so many, that he will truly live on in the caring hands of so many clinicians impacted by his long years of work. His leadership with his wife, Dr. Susan Block, in creating the Harvard Palliative Care Education and Practice (PCEP) program has extended his teaching influence beyond the Boston streets where he practiced for so many years.
In 2004, while I was finishing up my hospice and palliative medicine fellowship in North Carolina, I was lucky enough to attend the Harvard PCEP program. Excited to just be near some of the field's luminaries like Billings, Block, Bruera, Christakis, Truog VonGunten, Weissman and others was a big thrill. To then find out that I was assigned to the small group with Andy Billings as the facilitator floored me.
He was extremely approachable as a teacher, which immediately helped set us all on a level playing field. As we discussed communication skills, he would share small insights that would help unlock a different way of hearing the conversation. In the more introspective sessions, he provided safe-space for the small group to discuss our own understanding of spirituality, religion, and our philosophies on life, so we could better care for patients and families.
After PCEP, we kept in touch occasionally by email, and running into each other at AAHPM meetings. I was sometimes concerned I might be a bother to such a busy, accomplished man, yet he always genial and welcoming. He always made me feel welcome.
Thanks Andy, for everything.
Read more about Andrew Billings in his own words in his 2007 reflection on his career in palliative care and hospice or a piece in the New York Times featuring him.
Christian Sinclair is a palliative medicine physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he provides inpatient consultation, and outpatient clinic services. He hopes to be always genial and welcoming, like Andy.
Photo credits: Christian Sinclair, personal collection