In celebration of 25 years serving the profession, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) asked its 5,000 members to nominate who they think are the leaders – or Visionaries – in the field. They then asked members to vote for the top 10 among the 111 nominated.

“This program recognizes key individuals who have been critical in building and shaping our field over the past 25 years,” noted Steve R. Smith, AAHPM executive director and CEO. “These individuals represent thousands of other healthcare professionals in this country that provide quality medical care and support for those living with serious illness — each and every day.”

The Visionaries – 14 women and 16 men – are physicians, nurses and hospice pioneers such as British physician, nurse and social worker Cicely Saunders, credited with starting the modern hospice movement, and Elisabeth Kübler Ross, author of numerous books including the groundbreaking “On Death and Dying.” Five elected officials were nominated and one of them, former President Ronald Reagan, was named a Visionary for signing into law the Medicare hospice benefit in 1982.

Many of the visionaries will be sharing their thoughts about the field and who inspired their work. We’ll be posting them over the next several months. Today’s post is from Patrick Coyne, MSN APRN ACHPN FAAN, Clinical Director, Thomas Palliative Care Service, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, VA.

Who has most influenced your work and what impact has he or she had?I have been blessed in my life and career. I had wonderful parents who instilled the ability to question everything and ask “why not?” My wife Ellie and daughter Erin have been constantly supporting my love for palliative care and keeping me grounded and energized. Judy Paice has been and remains my go-to person with challenges in pain management, symptom issues and other crises. Betty Ferrell clearly took a risk on me by giving me many unique opportunities which allowed me to grow professionally and encouraged me unconditionally. Tom Smith, really to be forever known as my partner in crime, was/is a constant supporter, advocate and friend. Tom was willing to take risks with me that I believe ultimately helped us make a positive impact on countless individuals’ lives and an entire healthcare system. I have been fortunate through the years to have been surrounded by countless exceptional nurses, physicians, administrators, social workers, volunteers, researchers as well as other disciplines. Some who deserve particular attention, Bart Bobb, Clareen Wiencek, Laurie Lyckholm, Dani Noreika, Connie Dahlin , Mary Ann Hager and Ken White. All their dedication made this work easier, constantly encouraged and challenged me, and thus supported my professional development. The entire palliative care team at Virginia Commonwealth University is without a doubt the greatest group I could ever have the opportunity to work with; in a word they are” unrelenting”. Finally, our patients and their families teach and tolerate me daily, always pushing me to improve and question the status quo.

What does it mean to you to be named a “Visionary” in Hospice and Palliative Medicine? I am overwhelmed, shocked and honored. Clearly there are individuals more deserving of this honor. I believe this is a validation of the work of the teams with whom I have served, specifically Virginia Commonwealth University/Massey Cancer Palliative Care Program, the ELNEC team and the APRN palliative externship program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

What is your vision for the future of hospice and Palliative Medicine?I believe palliative care will experience extremely rapid growth and eventually acceptance within our society. This growth will be challenging as our numbers are few and the need is great. I hope programs such as our pilot APRN palliative externship program at Virginia Commonwealth University will ease this problem and promote solutions.

More information on the Visionaries project, including the list of 30 Visionaries is on the Academy’s website www.aahpm.org.