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Erin Gallagher, palliative care physician, honoured by McMaster

Story by Tina Depko, Faculty of Health Sciences

A Hamilton family physician and palliative care consultant has been recognized with the 2020 Elizabeth J. Latimer prize in palliative care from McMaster University.

Erin Gallagher, assistant professor of family medicine, was recently presented with the award. A McMaster alumna, she completed her family medicine residency, palliative care fellowship and master of public health degree at the university.

Erin Gallagher
Erin Gallagher

She said the award was a welcome surprise.

“When you look at the list of past recipients, to be considered alongside these people is such a nice compliment,” she said.

Gallagher is a family physician with the Stonechurch Family Health Centre. She’s a palliative care consultant for the McMaster Family Health Team and Hamilton Health Sciences. She is also a clinical supervisor and lecturer for McMaster at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the areas of general family medicine and palliative care.

She said she finds palliative care rewarding because of her interest in treating the person, not just the illness.

“I really enjoy those types of encounters where you get into the person behind the patient, and palliative care embodies that,” she said. “You are treating people, often during one of the most vulnerable periods of their lives. You are also treating the entire family, who are all suffering.”

She said she often finds herself providing palliative care to patients who do not have regular family physicians.

Gallagher advocates that everyone involved in the care of a patient have basic knowledge around pain and symptom management and be able to have conversations about prognosis, goals of care and advanced care planning.

“We work in a complicated system, and it seems by the day, it is becoming more so,” she said. “Everyone who works with patients, from primary care providers to specialists, needs to ensure patients with progressive diseases don’t get lost in the system. I would like to see health-care providers working together to identify these patients earlier and help them, from a symptom perspective to advanced care planning, and make sure their caregivers are also doing well.”

Gallagher credits her mentors Denise Marshall, professor of family medicine; Samantha Winemaker, associate clinical professor of family medicine, and the late Joshua Shadd, former director of the Division of Palliative Care at McMaster.

The Elizabeth J. Latimer prize recognizes excellence and innovation in palliative care. It is named to honour McMaster’s internationally renowned and pioneering palliative care physician and educator.

The annual award is for a clinician, teacher, researcher or administrator whose work continues to pave the way for continued growth and improvement of end-of-life care in the region.

“Although I never got to work with Liz Latimer, she comes up so often in the influence she’s had in other people’s lives personally, in practice, and in patient care,” Gallagher said. “Her impact was so extensive.”

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