Kathryn Kirkland Named to the Dorothy and John J. Byrne, Jr., Distinguished Chair in Palliative Medicine

Kathryn B. Kirkland, MD, a professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine, section chief and director of the Palliative Medicine Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and a 1986 graduate of the medical school has been named the Dorothy and John J. Byrne, Jr., Distinguished Chair in Palliative Medicine.

The chair was established in 2007 with a generous gift from Jack and Dorothy Byrne, whose long-term support has been integral to the development of palliative care at Geisel and Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Palliative care interdisciplinary teams work to address the social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of seriously ill patients and to ensure that they receive health care that is aligned with their values and preferences.

Endowed chairs support distinguished faculty members in their multiple roles of physician, teacher, and researcher, allowing them the time and resources to mentor students and trainees and to collaborate with fellow faculty.

“I am very pleased to see Kathy recognized for her excellent work and leadership in palliative medicine,” says Duane Compton, PhD, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine. “The support from the Byrne Chair will allow her to build the palliative program and to help educate students and clinicians in the best practices for caring for patients and their families under the most difficult of circumstances."

The Byrnes’ support for palliative care at Geisel and Dartmouth-Hitchcock began more than 20 years ago with a gift that funded the creation of the Regional Palliative Care Initiative, a project of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This led to the creation of a formal Palliative Care Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which was strengthened by the Byrnes’ ongoing generosity over the next decade.

In 2014, Mrs. Byrne committed $10 million towards the creation of the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care, now under construction on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus. Building on the foundational work of Dr. Ira Byock, who previously held the Byrne Chair, Dr. Kirkland has played a key role in developing the vision for the Jack Byrne Center. The center will fill a growing need for people with life-limiting illness who would like to be at home but whose pain or other medical needs require specialized care. It will also serve as a hub for education, training, and research to strengthen palliative and hospice care region-wide.

Kirkland has led the Palliative Care Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock since early 2016. In addition to her leadership role, she is actively engaged in clinical work with patients who are facing serious illness, and in teaching medical students, residents, and fellows on palliative care rotations. Her primary scholarly interest is in the field of narrative medicine, which focuses on building capacity of clinicians to receive the stories of others, and to use them to ensure that patients receive individualized health care that is aligned with their values. She is involved in cross-disciplinary activities with humanities and social science colleagues at Dartmouth College, and has received grant support from the Mellon and the Gold Foundations for work in medical humanities.

Kirkland has been on the faculty at the Geisel School of Medicine since 1999, and has served in a number of leadership roles at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, including four years on its Board of Governors. Board certified in internal medicine, infectious disease, and hospice and palliative medicine, she completed her residency and chief residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York and trained in infectious disease at Duke University, followed by two years with the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before completing fellowship training in palliative medicine at Dartmouth in 2014, she was an infectious disease specialist and a nationally recognized health care epidemiologist.

“Frederick Buechner described vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,’” says Kirkland. “In palliative care I have found my vocation in improving care for seriously ill patients and their families. The Byrne Chair will provide me the time and reflective space to plan for the future of our program and the resources to support the growth of the many talented people who make up our palliative care team. As a leader, my role is to serve others. Holding a chair that bears the name of Jack and Dorothy Byrne, who have done so much to serve our community, is a particular honor, and one that I am humbled to accept.”