June 07, 2018

Announcement of the selection of the inaugural chief of the new UCSF Division of Palliative Medicine at UCSF Health

Dear Colleagues:

I am thrilled to announce the appointment of Dr. Steven Pantilat to become the chief of the newly established Division of Palliative Medicine (DPM) at our UCSF Health sites. Steve’s appointment will begin on May 1st, and the division will formally launch on July 1st.

Steve received his undergraduate degree from UCLA, majoring in psychobiology and graduating summa cum laude. He came to UCSF for medical school and, like so many, never left. He was a resident and chief resident at UCSF and completed the UCSF Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program, studying medical ethics. He joined the hospitalist group (before the establishment of the Division of Hospital Medicine) in 1996. Working closely with Dr. Steve McPhee, he helped to launch UCSF’s palliative care program and became its director in 1999. Under his leadership, the program became nationally and internationally known for its interdisciplinary care model and its innovations in practice and education.

Steve is professor of medicine and holds the Kates-Burnard and Hellman Distinguished Professorship in Palliative Care. Steve and the UCSF Palliative Care Program have received numerous honors, including the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (in 2011) and the Circle of Life Award from the American Hospital Association (in 2007). Steve himself has been a Fulbright Scholar, has received five UCSF teaching awards, was named a “best doctor in palliative care” by San Francisco Magazine, and is a Master of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM). He was president of SHM in 2005-2006 and received the society’s Excellence in Teaching award. 

Steve’s national and international impact have been powerful. He founded and leads the UCSF Palliative Care Leadership Center (PCLC), which has trained teams from over 250 hospital and healthcare systems in how to establish a high quality palliative care program. He also leads the national Palliative Care Quality Network (PCQN), a consortium of over 100 palliative care teams developing and implementing metrics to improve the quality of care for seriously ill patients. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, co-edited two textbooks on palliative care, and most recently wrote a well-regarded lay-oriented book, Life After the Diagnosis: Expert Advice on Living Well with Serious Illness for Patients and their Caregivers. He and our UCSF palliative care colleagues are featured in the superb documentary, End Game, which will be released by Netflix on May 4th.

My decision to create the Division of Palliative Medicine at UCSF Health was driven by the tremendous growth of our palliative care enterprise and the lack of a unifying framework. Prior to the formation of the DPM, we had robust palliative care groups in the Division of Hospital Medicine (which managed inpatient palliative care and non-cancer outpatient care), the Division of General Internal Medicine (which, under Dr. Mike Rabow’s leadership, led the Symptom Management Service [SMS] in the Cancer Center), and in the Division of Geriatrics (which, under Dr. Brook Calton’s leadership, founded and led Bridges, our home-based palliative care program). After many discussions and broad stakeholder input, I came to believe that our ability to succeed across all of our missions would be enhanced by bringing all of the UCSF Health adult palliative care programs under a single divisional umbrella and leadership.

At its formation, approximately 20 faculty members will move into DPM, including all DOM faculty whose predominant role is providing palliative care at a UCSF Health site. The division will also assume academic/faculty leadership of all UCSF Health adult palliative care practices, including the inpatient services at Parnassus and Mission Bay, our outpatient palliative care practices (both SMS and non-cancer programs), and Bridges. Importantly, the formation of the UCSF Health DPM has no impact on the superb palliative care programs and faculty based at our VA and at ZSFG. I am grateful to the many individuals and divisions that provided input into the decision to form the DPM, particularly the leaders and faculty of DHM, DGIM, and the Geriatrics Division, as well as the leaders at UCSF Health who work with us to support and manage these clinical practices. In addition to its physician-faculty, DPM will also provide a home to approximately 15 additional members of our interdisciplinary palliative care team.

While the creation of the DPM will integrate our faculty across the inpatient, outpatient, and home-based sites of UCSF Health, my “listening tour” also pointed out the tremendous strengths in palliative care research throughout UCSF – not only in multiple DOM divisions (particularly geriatrics) but also in other departments (such as pediatrics and neurology) and schools (particularly nursing). With the support of the deans of the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy, we have convened a Palliative Care Research Task force to consider ways to better support and integrate palliative care research across UCSF. I am indebted to Dr. Christine Ritchie for chairing this group and look forward to reviewing its recommendations.  

I am also grateful to the DPM chief search committee, chaired by Dr. Catherine Lucey and co-chaired by Dr. Vanessa Grubbs. The committee did a wonderful job in considering a very strong pool of internal and external applicants, thinking not just about candidates but about the potential opportunities and challenges associated with the formation of the DPM.  

The growth of palliative care practice, education, and research is one of the most transformative changes in healthcare over the past 25 years. I am confident that, under Steve Pantilat’s leadership, the formation of the DPM at our UCSF Health sites positions us to have even greater impact locally, nationally, and internationally. Please join me in welcoming Steve to this role. 


Bob Wachter
Chair, Department of Medicine