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Gary Winzelberg, MD, MPH, and Laura C. Hanson, MD, MPH
Gary Winzelberg, MD, MPH, and Laura C. Hanson, MD, MPH

After a widespread search, Ron Falk, MD, chair of the department of medicine has named Laura C. Hanson, MD, MPH, director of the department’s palliative care program, and Gary Winzelberg, MD, MPH, has been named the associate director.

Palliative care is specialized medical care to promote comfort and quality of life for people with serious illness – whatever the diagnosis or life expectancy – and to ensure treatment is matched to patient goals and values. Clinical palliative care services began at UNC Medical Center in 2001, with funding from UNC Hospitals and administrative support in the Divisions of Geriatrics and Hematology-Oncology. Hanson and Winzelberg will now lead an expanding interdisciplinary program of palliative care services and related research and teaching housed in the Department of Medicine.

Vice Chair for Clinical Services Cristin Colford, MD, says this training is key to patient-centered care as she works to integrate clinical activities across the department.

“Palliative care skills in communication and symptom management are fundamental for all physicians, across all specialties,” said Colford. “With Dr. Hanson’s and Dr. Winzelberg’s leadership, the department will build expertise in palliative medicine so that it will be available in a broader way, to all of the patients and families who need it.”

Hanson is a national leader in palliative care for frail and medically complex older patients, with a particular focus on improving care for persons with advanced dementia or advanced stage cancer. As Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Hanson leads a program of research testing innovations in communication, decision-making and palliative care delivery. She is a founding member of the NIH-funded Palliative Care Research Cooperative group, the only clinical trials network for this field of research. In addition, she holds leadership roles in research for the American Geriatrics Society and American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine.

“I am grateful for the people who make up the Department of Medicine’s Palliative Care Program – outstanding clinicians and creative educators and investigators who work hard, and are motivated by compassion for our patients and families.”

Winzelberg is an Associate Professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and founding director of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program, which received ACGME accreditation in 2015. This program currently trains three fellows each year through an innovative partnership with Transitions LifeCare based in Raleigh. He also serves as medical director of the outpatient oncology palliative care clinic in the North Carolina Cancer Hospital.

Winzelberg focuses on enhancing physician communication with seriously ill patients and their families. Last year, he led goals of care communication training sessions with more than 20 UNC oncologists as part of a Lineberger-funded advanced cancer collaborative care project led by Hanson. He is also the clinical site leader of a PCORI-funded randomized controlled trial comparing the effects of clinic and telehealth palliative care visits for patients with advanced lung cancer.

“I feel privileged to work closely with our outstanding hospice and palliative medicine fellows as well as colleagues in the department and medical center who are all committed to improving the care of patients with serious illness. This year, 23 medicine residents requested elective time with our hospital consult service and all first-year oncology fellows will complete a two-week palliative care rotation. Interest in palliative care education has increased significantly in recent years, and the department’s support will enable our program to meet this need.”