UW Palliative Care program wins national honor

Toby Campbell, MD, MSci

The UW Health Palliative Care program won national honors for its work in helping patients and their families make better decisions at the end of life.

The program was selected for a 2017 Citation of Honor from the Circle of Life Award, which is sponsored by the American Hospital Association (AHA). The group cited UW Health for its innovative work in communication and skills training, including employing professional actors to interact with health care practitioners, an Empathy card game developed by palliative care fellows and the Best Case/Worse Case communication tool that helps health care professionals explain possible outcomes to patients and families so they can make better decisions about their own health care.

The UW palliative care program maintains two adult teams, one pediatric team, two nurse communicators in the intensive care unit, and an ambulatory palliative care program. The pediatric team extends its reach throughout Wisconsin in its role as the state's premier academic hospital.

"We have really tried to bring about a culture change organization-wide," said Toby Campbell, MD, MSci, associate professor (CHS), Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care. Dr. Campbell, a lung cancer oncologist with the UW Carbone Cancer Center, serves as director of palliative care and is the Ellen and Peter O. Johnson Chair in Palliative Care. He accepted the award during the AHA Annual Summit in San Diego, California in July, 2017.

Together with colleagues including Amy Zelenski, PhD, assistant professor (CHS), General Internal Medicine, Dr. Campbell’s group also trains residents and fellows from around the country in its PalliTALK program. WeTALK – a theater-based workshop that teaches clinicians to recognize opportunities for empathy and communication with patients and families – has trained more than 1,000 UW Health providers.

Trainees in the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program benefit from advanced training in communication skills, including simulation-based training and bi-monthly reflection conferences designed to foster empathy and resilience. Another key training focus is fostering interactions across the palliative care team. “We’re always trying to build relationships with other specialties,” said fellowship director Sara Johnson, MD, assistant professor (CHS), Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care.

UW Health was one of three health systems to win citations of honor. Top awards went to Bluegrass Care Navigators of Lexington, Kentucky, and Providence Trinity Care Hospice of Torrance, California. AHA representatives plan planning to visit Madison in the fall to present the award to the entire UW palliative care team.


  • "UW Health Palliative Care Program Wins National Honor," UW Health, August 2, 2017
  • Circle of Life Award Winners: AHA Website and 2017 Awardee Booklet (PDF)

(photo: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine; video: American Hospital Association)