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last updated:
Fri, 4/16/2010 9:36 AM

As director of Methodist Hospice and Palliative Services, I supervise the medical care of about three to four thousand patients per year, most of whom die. It’s a unique job, in that the careers of most physicians are focused on healing, whereas mine involves a different portion of the illness spectrum. I see a good bit of healing, as well, but I’ve had to reframe how I view the concept—it may be coming to terms with illness, rather than ‘beating it’ to rejoin the flow of life as it was before the dreaded diagnosis.

I often field questions from patients and colleagues about what it is that drew me to this work, or how I keep from being drained by the emotional toll of dealing with death on a daily basis. In the first instance, I’ve felt called to palliative medicine for a long time. I ‘backed into’ medicine as a way of leveraging science to try an understand people. Having trained as a minister, working with the hospice and palliative care teams seemed a natural progression as I explored the ultimate questions of meaning, purpose and hope that humans encounter in our journey.

With respect to keeping my battery charged, that’s pretty easy. Although this work can be emotionally draining, it’s also incredibly rewarding. I get the chance to collect stories—sixty-year marriages, prodigals who returned (and those who didn’t), and all the backdrop of the lives lived by the ‘greatest generation.’ I also take time to get away from the work with the imminently terminal, whether it’s in my private family practice, with my church community, or with my family and friends. All in all, it makes for a fulfilling life—one I wouldn’t trade.


Dr. Clay Jackson is the medical director for Methodist Alliance Hospice and Palliative Services Director. For more information about Hospice & Palliative Care Services, call 901.516.1616 or 800.726.2559. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice.


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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000