Meet AAHPM President Janet Bull
What led you to the specialty of hospice and palliative medicine?
I was practicing medicine as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Atlanta when our office manager, a vibrant woman in her thirties, became critically ill. It was during that time I realized the medical system was so focused on treating her medical illness that little if any attention was spent in helping her emotionally or spiritually or in comforting her large family, who were devastated by their impending loss. The day of her death, I did a visualization exercise and “journeyed her to her favorite beach.” I watched as her blood pressure and pulse normalized. The energy in the room shifted, a peace came over her, and soon after I left, she died. Around the same time, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross came to Atlanta and talked about her work with dying children. She discussed the language of the dying and the need to bring meaning and resolution to life’s end, and I was taken with the authenticity and vulnerability of her work and the impact that it had on those for whom she cared. At the time, I was fully engaged in an obstetric-gynecology practice, but those two events were the catalysts that led me to volunteer with hospice and, eventually, change specialties.
Which aspects of providing palliative care do you consider most rewarding?
Teaching clinicians and working with patients and their families are the most rewarding aspects of my job. I love to hear patients’ stories, listen to their journeys, see the joys and hardships they’ve endured, and understand their values and beliefs that form the tapestry of their lives. There are many similarities between obstetrics and hospice and palliative medicine, as the birth of a child and the death of a loved one are key sentinel events. The same elements surround both—intimacy, vulnerability, fear, angst, laughter, love, and wonder. Being a witness and often a facilitator to these events has been a great privilege.