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Waldrop recognized for palliative care research

Deborah Waldrop's pioneering research is grounded in her experience as a hospice social worker and from spending 20 years in hospitals before that. Photo: Onion Studio, Dylan Buyskes, 2013

By BERT GAMBINI

Published April 16, 2015

“A life-limiting diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person who is ill. It moves through their whole social network.”
Deborah Waldrop, professor
School of Social Work

Deborah Waldrop, professor in the UB School of Social Work, received the Award of Excellence in Research from the Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) at the organization’s annual 2015 General Assembly in Philadelphia.

The award recognizes her 16 years of research dedicated to advancing the field of palliative care.

“To be nominated by my peers and have this kind of recognition is an incredible honor and privilege,” Waldrop says.

Her groundbreaking research extends from her experience as a hospice social worker and from spending 20 years in hospitals before that. She knows the challenges families faced in the past, given only a difficult set of limited options, and the better choices they have today due to the inception of hospice and palliative care.

“My driving force is to make a difference in what we understand about the psychosocial care that people need and the psychosocial issues they experience,” Waldrop says. “This includes how a diagnosis and disease trajectory influences a person within their specific social environment — their family, their job, their finances and the people around them. A life-limiting diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person who is ill. It moves through their whole social network.

“I believe I can make a difference through research that educates health care providers,” she says. “That’s what matters to me, and for that to be recognized is an honor.”

To understand the story of Waldrop’s success, you must first appreciate the role stories have in her research, much of which is narrative-based. She often conducts interviews at a person’s bedside or in a caregiver’s home, gathering data that informs developments related to hospice and palliative care.

“One of the things that’s so amazing to me is how eager people are to tell their stories to a researcher for the purpose of making a difference in someone else’s life,” she says. “Most especially when that person has had a bad experience but says they want it to be different for someone else.”

Palliative care is not just end-of-life care. Waldrop says it’s about managing symptoms within the context of the person’s entire life and what’s important to them.

It’s a patient-centered, family-focused approach to care that sees the person who is ill and the family as a unit for care.

The field addresses all the symptoms that can accompany a serious illness, not just those medically related to the diagnosis. Palliative care manages emotional pain and spiritual and existential distress. It is team-focused, comprised of physicians, social workers, nurses and chaplains, all of whom are equal members who bring care in equal weight.

“I have a colleague who said, ‘I’d want palliative care if I threw my back out,’” Waldrop says.

Waldrop’s most recent work focuses on decision-making and how people go through the process of advance care planning. She continues working on a study of bereavement outcomes for caregivers whose loved one has died. She has been invited to serve on C-Change: Collaborating to Conquer Cancer, a group comprising leaders from the country’s government, business and research sectors that will develop a national consensus research agenda for palliative and hospice care for cancer.