Congratulations to Dr. Sarah Friebert, director of the Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Division, for receiving the Project on Death in America Palliative Medicine Community Leadership Award from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM). Dr. Friebert will receive the award at AAHPM’s Annual Assembly in San Diego, Calif., in March.
“Palliative care is my vocation, my calling, and the creation of our center here at Akron Children’s is my life’s work,” said Dr. Friebert. “To have that work recognized by my colleagues across the country and by two organizations that I respect is beyond humbling.”
Although the award comes from AAHPM, it is sponsored by Project on Death in America, which was created to provide funding for individuals and institutions to address the barriers modern society and medicine face in providing appropriate, compassionate care of the dying.
The award acknowledges Dr. Friebert’s mentorship of future leaders in her field. Her vision – that every child and family with palliative care needs have access to high-quality care, no matter where they live – is the driving force behind her work.
“We must scale and spread our teams, our care and our interventions to reach as many families as possible,” she said. “From the beginning, our team has focused on mentoring leaders in every discipline and/or setting in order to disseminate best practices as widely as possible. We started with each other and our colleagues at Akron Children’s, creating champions and making sure that pediatric palliative care has become a ‘golden thread’ that is weaved throughout our enterprise and our community. Then we moved outside, including our fellowship program which trains two physicians every year to go out and be leaders in other communities, with other teams.”
In addition to ongoing mentoring relationships with its own graduates, Akron Children’s Palliative Care program hosts fellows in other palliative medicine training programs to give them exposure to pediatrics and participates actively in the education of other professionals, both locally and nationally.
“We welcome students of all levels and disciplines to participate alongside our team, to gain expertise and mentoring so they can integrate pediatric palliative care principles into their practices no matter where they end up,” said Dr. Friebert. “We often have medical, nurse practitioner and social work students who gain their clinical hours through participation with our team.”
In 1999, Dr. Friebert founded a state-wide coalition of pediatric hospice and palliative care programs and professionals to advance education, advocacy and research initiatives across Ohio. For many years, through the Center to Advance Palliative Care, Akron Children’s served as a clinical training site for the Palliative Care Leadership Center program in pediatrics, providing on-site and distance training for programs seeking to start or grow their own palliative care programs.
“Through that initiative, we mentored over 30 other programs across the country,” she said.
Before entering the field of medicine, Dr. Friebert experienced hospice care first-hand in her family and says it was one of the reasons she chose the field.
“Palliative medicine combines tremendous intellectual stimulation – as you have to know about a lot of different diseases, treatments and situations – with a focus on caring through compassion and advocacy, which are core to our practice,” she said. “To me, palliative care is the reason I went to medical school in the first place. It enables me to be my best self.”
More recently Dr. Friebert has focused her attention on reducing the stigma associated with addiction and advocating for enhanced availability of holistic supports for families and communities.
“Palliative care is team-based interdisciplinary care provided as an extra layer of support for anyone afflicted with a serious illness,” she said. “Addiction itself is a serious health condition that benefits greatly from this model of holistic, team-based care of the affected person and his/her family.
“Addiction is not about the substance the afflicted person uses – it’s about creating a comprehensive network of support to combat isolation as well as co-occurring mental health conditions (such as depression and anxiety), which increase the likelihood of self-medication,” she added.
Dr. Friebert says she loves what she does and considers it an immense privilege.
“The work we do is difficult but being able to witness unbelievable strength in the face of adversity is truly miraculous,” she said. “We may not be able to change the fact that suffering will happen, but if we can help ease the burden even just a little, that’s an incredible gift. What is also rewarding is being able to work alongside a phenomenal group of people who strive to bring the best of who they are to what we do every day.”