This post is from one of the Inspiring Hospice and Palliative Medicine Leaders Under 40. Gordon Wood, MD MSCI FAAHPM, was selected based on his involvement in AAHPM, educating others about hospice and palliative medicine, participation in charitable work, and mentoring of students or residents. The honoree was then asked who inspired him over the course of his career. We are sharing some of his answers in this post. Check back regularly for posts from other leaders.

Who has most influenced your work in hospice and palliative medicine and what impact has he or she had?
My career has been shaped so significantly by mentors that it is impossible to name just one. My interest in palliative care grew out of the opportunity to work with Dr. Stephen McPhee while doing my medicine residency at University of California, San Francisco. I had the good fortune of doing an elective rotation in palliative care with him and got to see him read poetry during family meetings to capture the emotion at hand. It was a profound experience that changed the direction of my career. I then went to Northwestern for my Palliative Medicine fellowship where I worked with Dr. Joshua Hauser and Dr. Michael Preodor in the Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (EPEC) Project, first as an attendee then as a teacher. These experiences and relationships led to a decision to change my focus from research to medical education. At Northwestern, I also worked with Korey Eckley, LCSW who taught me the power and joy of working in an interdisciplinary team. During my fellowship, I attended OncoTalk where I met Dr. Bob Arnold. The experience there and my relationship with Bob, with whom I would later work as faculty, developed my interest in communication skills training which continues to be the focus of my academic work. Finally, my relationship with Dr. Martha Twaddle has brought me to my current position where I am able to continue my work in communication skills training in both the academic setting of Northwestern and at Midwest CareCenter, a community hospice.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I anticipate many changes and developments within the next five years. First of all, the palliative care program I direct at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital will have moved to the new replacement hospital, which is scheduled to complete construction in 2017. This will come with new trainees, including a family medicine residency. I am fortunate to have the support of Midwest CareCenter and the Martha L. Twaddle Chair in Palliative Medicine, which will allow me the opportunity to develop educational programs for the learners at this new hospital as well as for Midwest staff and our community. In five years, we should also be wrapping up the “Preference-Aligned Communication and Treatment (PACT)” Project, a 4.5 year project scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2015 which will implement and analyze an advance care planning intervention at more than 20 Illinois hospitals and their post-acute partners. I anticipate this project will inform future proposals centered on team communication training. In five years, I also hope to be continuing to work with VitalTalk as we come to the end of our 5-year goal of providing communication skills training to 11,500 clinicians. By that time, we at the Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (EPEC) project anticipate having an updated core curriculum as well as new specialist and international curricula. Finally, I hope to be planning a wonderful celebration for my 10-year anniversary with my wife along with my two daughters, who will be 8 and 5 by that time.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
The best advice I ever received was my fellowship program director, Jamie von Roenn, suggesting I attend OncoTalk. I was thrilled about the opportunity for an all-expenses-paid week in Aspen, however, I became considerably less excited when I found out that the week would be spent doing role-play. What I experienced at OncoTalk, however, was fundamentally different from any role-play I had done before. It felt real and safe, yet challenging, and, to my amazement, actually became fun. I learned how to be a better observer of communication, breaking conversations into discrete elements, connecting causes and effects. It started to feel more like working in a lab, bouncing ideas off of really smart and insightful colleagues and trying out new things. It was exciting and became the focus of my academic career. Now, through a program known as VitalTalk, I am now fortunate to teach alongside the people who were my teachers during that first trip to Aspen.

In reflecting on the advice to attend OncoTalk, I think it was not only the concrete experience of attending the conference that made the advice powerful. It was also the suggestion that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to try something new can help you grow in significant and sometimes surprising ways. I have since tried to remember this when confronted with opportunities that seem different or daunting and it has moved my career in exciting directions I never would have anticipated.