Betty Ferrell: A visionary in care that focuses on quality of life

October 23, 2013 | by

When Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., began her career in 1977, the nation had fewer than 10 hospices, and the words “palliative care” were not part of the medical vocabulary.

The field and Ferrell have come a long way. Ferrell was recently named one of the 30 most influential leaders in hospice and palliative care medicine, the medical specialty focused on relieving suffering and improving quality of life for people with serious illnesses. The honor came from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

“I count my life as one of enormous opportunity and blessing – to have been part of dedicated and passionate colleagues who have changed the culture of care and created hospice and palliative care as an essential component of health care,” said Ferrell, director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope, praising her colleagues for advocating for such care as a human right.

Ferrell is an internationally known expert in pain management, quality of life and palliative care. She’s a fellow of the American Academy of Nurses and has published more than 300 papers in peer-reviewed journals and texts. She is currently principal investigator of a project funded by the National Cancer Institute to investigate quality of life and palliative care for lung cancer patients. The term "palliative care" is often used interchangeably with the term "end-of-life care" – but that’s not completely accurate. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life by managing pain, symptoms, and psychological and spiritual concerns associated with illness – all good practices to begin at the start of treatment.

Betty Ferrell

Betty Ferrell has been named a visionary in her field by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

“I hope that palliative care will be so well-integrated that it would be shocking for a patient and family not to receive this care,” Ferrell said. “I have heard many of my colleagues say that we who have been so privileged to be part of this early history are building the care system we want for ourselves.”

Ferrell was an author on the recent Institute of Medicine report “Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis,” which recommends ways to improve cancer care delivery. (A video released with that report is featured above.)

The  new honor, from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, was given in celebration of the organization's 25th year anniversary, with its members nominating visionaries in the field.

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

Also honored were, among others, 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.”

“I consider myself as a lone voice in a very large chorus,” Ferrell said. “Advances in our field have only been possible through the generous spirit of many with a common vision that the end of life is not a medical failure, but a sacred time of life.”