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Parker Oliver Named Chair in Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care

Ira Kodner, MD Chair Created with Gift from Anne and John McDonnell

Debra Parker Oliver, PhD, MSW, a noted expert in end-of-life caregiving and a recent addition to the Division of Palliative Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has been named the inaugural holder of the Ira Kodner, MD Chair in Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care.

The chair was created through a gift to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital from philanthropists John and Anne McDonnell.

Parker Oliver is a nationally known research mentor who has studied caregiving in hospice and palliative care. Her work in the Division of Palliative Care, along with an appointment at the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, allow her to focus research on helping family caregivers of dying patients.

Palliative medicine and hospice care focus on relieving suffering for patients with advanced diseases. The goal is to address symptoms while using compassionate communication and psychosocial and spiritual support to enhance quality of life for patients and members of their families.

The Foundation created the chair to honor Ira J. Kodner, MD, professor emeritus of surgery and former chief of the Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery in the Department of Surgery. Kodner has authored several articles about the ethical challenges involved in delivering health care. He also taught medical and surgical ethics and was involved in establishing the palliative care program at Washington University.

The endowed chair was made possible through a gift from Anne and John McDonnell. John McDonnell retired as chairman of the board of McDonnell Douglas Corp. after guiding its merger with Boeing Co. He since has worked to establish St. Louis as a leading center for bioscience research and innovative technologies. He is the founding chair of BioSTL and BioGenerator and serves on the board of the Cortex Innovation Community, the city’s innovation hub and technology district. He also is a longtime supporter of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the St. Louis Science Center.

Among Anne McDonnell’s many efforts to improve the St. Louis region, she has focused on reviving the historic Soulard neighborhood in south St. Louis. Through the BSB Development Co., she has rehabbed 19th century row houses into modern, affordable apartment units. She also has supported the SouthSide Early Childhood Center, University City Children’s Center and a number of elementary and secondary schools, both public and private.

Anne and John McDonnell and their family also have made significant contributions to advance Washington University’s status as a world leader in research, education and service to society, endowing numerous professorships, scholarships, buildings and academic programs, including the McDonnell International Scholars Academy, a global research and education partnership.

Before joining the faculty at Washington University, Debra Parker Oliver was a professor at the University of Missouri in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She serves on the board of directors of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and as a senior associate editor for the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

“We are excited to have an outstanding researcher and experienced hospice care provider join us in this endowed position,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine at Washington University. “Debra has spent more than 20 years as a social worker and administrator in hospice programs, and her research and experience make her an ideal addition to our team in palliative medicine and supportive care.”

Parker Oliver earned her master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in rural sociology at the University of Missouri. She has authored nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles and a book about palliative and hospice care.

In September 2011, her husband, David, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Parker Oliver and her husband benefitted from palliative care and hospice. The couple created a blog to share the journey with others, and it attracted readers from more than 70 countries. After her husband’s death, Parker Oliver shared even more in a memoir titled “Legacies from the Living Room: A Love-Grief Equation.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to hold the Kodner chair, which honors one of Washington University’s greatest advocates for palliative medicine, and to work with so many wonderful caregivers at the university, the Goldfarb School of Nursing and throughout the BJC system,” Parker Oliver said. “I am especially grateful to the McDonnells, to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and to BJC HealthCare for their commitment to palliative and end-of-life care. I believe our efforts can help improve life for patients, for their families and for the caregivers who do this very important work.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

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