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Dr. Karen Bullock to Speak at 2018 Palliative Care Symposium

Hartford Scholar Will Discuss Cultural Influences on Palliative Care Decisions

Karen Bullock, PhD, began her career as a palliative care researcher, educator and health disparities scholar after her mother died from advanced lung cancer nearly two decades ago. Though hospice was readily available, it was not a culturally acceptable option of care in her mother’s view – an experience that compelled Dr. Bullock to study what matters to African Americans at end of life (2008) and why many don’t access palliative services aimed at providing a more compassionate death.

Dr. Bullock, professor and head of the Department of Social Work at North Carolina State University, will discuss her research on cancer care and social support for older adults with non-curable illnesses at the 2018 National Symposium for Academic Palliative Care Education and Research in San Diego on Oct. 11-12.

Expert in Clinical Practice, Research and Education

Dr. Bullock earned her PhD in Sociology & Social Work from Boston University, her Master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University, and her Bachelor of Social Work degree from North Carolina State University. She has more than 25 years of clinical practice experience in mental health and aging, and has been a licensed practitioner in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Dr. Bullock is a nationally recognized expert on healthcare disparities and end-of-life care issues; she is a leader in advancement of social work practice, education, and training, to assure that current and future professionals incorporate gerontology, mental health, palliative and end-of-life care into their practice.

John A. Hartford/Gerontological Society of America Faculty Scholar

Her expertise was recognized and honored when she became a John A. Hartford/Gerontological Society of America Faculty Scholar, a prestigious two-year commitment in which she participated in developing geriatric social work leadership, research and practice innovations that would assure a workforce of social workers trained and educated in geriatrics. Dr. Bullock is also an Affiliate Faculty member at the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) at the University of Connecticut, and holds numerous appointments in national boards and committees.

Personal Experience Lead to Professional Passion

When she was a doctoral student at Boston University in 1998, Dr. Bullock’s mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. After deciding to discontinue medical treatment, her mother could have benefited from the physical, social, spiritual support available through hospice – but her mother refused. An only daughter, Dr. Bullock became her mother’s primary caregiver from afar, coordinating her cancer care and end-of-life planning with informal social support. She was at her mother’s bedside when she died.

Since then, Dr. Bullock has studied what appears to be reluctance of African Americans to discuss end-of-life issues, enroll in hospice and/or seek other palliative services. Data reported in 2016 by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization shows roughly 83% of patients in hospice are non-Hispanic whites, while fewer than 9% are black and fewer than 7% are Hispanic. The same report notes current availability of the services, with more than 90% of hospitals offering palliative care to patients, more than 4,000 hospices operating in the U.S., and payment covering hospice services available through Medicare for beneficiaries with a life expectancy of less than 6 months.

Historical Disparity and Mistrust Influences Care Choices Today

Among Latino and African Americans, Dr. Bullock has found, some of the decision to forgo hospice and palliative is often rooted in a mistrust of healthcare organizations, cultural incongruence and a legacy of segregation that denied access to equal healthcare, or experimental and clinical trials that disproportionately targeted black people without in the absence of informed consent. Strong religious beliefs also come into play.

Dr. Bullock is joining an all-star line-up of plenary speakers at this year’s Symposium. Her participation will equip attendees with powerful information and wisdom that can reshape their education, research and practice in palliative care.

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