Q&A with John Halporn, MD
November 13th, 2020
John Halporn MD is the director of the palliative care service at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital where he is also the co-leader of the hospital ethics committee. He is a new co-director of Practical Aspects of Palliative Care and works occasional weekends on the IPCU to stay sharp.
Why did you decide to work in palliative care?
My first exposure to organized palliative care was in 1996 with Susan Block during residency, where I was matched with a home hospice patient. I have been in several roles as an internist – primary care doctor, hospitalist, and hospitalist chief – palliative care and end-of-life in particular have always been the most interesting and satisfying parts of my practice. When the opportunity came to get certification – before fellowship was required – I changed to palliative care practice. I arrived in 2013 initially in a combined role as an outpatient DFCI palliative clinician and inpatient consultant at Faulkner.
What would you like the public to know about your work?
I would like the public to know that effective communication and understanding with their provider is possible and that they are actually entitled to it. Many of our routines and structures in health care serve the efficiency and convenience of providers and patients easily get lost. Our current work on equity and patient experience may really make a difference.
What’s the hardest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
My brother died from cancer as a young adult, shortly after I finished residency. The experience of helplessness, tragedy, and grief had a profound effect on me and influences much of how I practice today.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My absolute favorite part is collecting stories from my patients and their families. Listening is fascinating entertainment, but also a very important part of relationship and trust building. This week, a 92 year old man with a thick Maine accent told me that the men in his family have been ‘tinkers’ (junk peddlers, his words) for four generations – 2 in Russia and Lithuania, 2 in Maine, and he grew up speaking Yiddish at home.
In your spare time, what do you do for fun?
I have always liked ice skating – in the past three years I have become serious about figure skating and ice dancing in particular. I skate 4 times per week and I am a member of my rink’s adult synchro team.