• Researcher Profile

    Susan D. Block, MD

    Susan D. Block, MD
    Institute Physician

    Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine, Harvard Medical School


    Psychosocial Oncology (Adult)

    Office phone: 617-632-5788
    Fax: 617-632-6180
    Email: susan_block@dfci.harvard.edu

    Preferred contact method: email

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    Research Department

    Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care


    Psychiatry, Palliative medicine, Adult psychosocial oncology, Symptom management, End-of-life care

    Area of Research

    Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    450 Brookline Avenue
    Shields Warren G411
    Boston, MA 02215


    Susan D. Block, M.D is an Institute Physician in the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Womens Hospital and Co-Director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care, a national center of excellence in palliative care education. Dr. Block received her AB from Stanford University, her MD from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and completed residencies in both internal medicine and psychiatry at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. She is board-certified in both fields and in palliative medicine. Throughout her career, Dr. Block has had a strong interest in improving care of patients with life-threatening illness and in medical education reform. She has been a leader in the development of the field of Palliative Medicine nationally and has been responsible for the development of innovative educational programs for medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty. She runs national and international faculty development programs for palliative care clinicians, is active in research focused on mental health, communication, and cancer outcomes, and on medical education, serves on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, is the recipient of numerous awards for teaching, mentoring, and research, and has led the development of palliative care and psychooncology services at DFCI and BWH.

    Recent Awards

    • American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Distinguished Service Award, 2002
    • Jack Maatsch-Association of American Medical Colleges Award for research in medical education, 2002
    • Association for Academic Psychiatry, Outstanding Psychiatric Educator Award, 1998
    • American College of Psychiatrists "Creativity in Psychiatric Education", 1997


    Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care

    Many deficiencies have been noted in end-of-life care. Medical education and postgraduate training offer few opportunities for physicians to learn how to care for patients with advanced illness. However, through understanding the status of palliative care education, physicians' attitudes and practices in relation to end-of-life care, and their experiences in caring for patients who die, we can develop new ways to improve physician education and patient care. To that end, we are conducting the following studies:

    Physicians' emotional reactions to their patients' deaths. In this study, we are using both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the experiences of medical students, interns, residents, and attending physicians who are caring for dying patients.

    Program in Palliative Care Education and Practice Outcome Evaluation.
    We are conducting an intensive long-term evaluation of the impact of a two-week faculty development program on physicians' competencies in palliative care, education, and organizational change.

    Through the Center for Psychooncology and Palliative Care Research, we are also developing a series of studies focused on mental health issues at the end of life, caregivers of dying patients, and the bereaved, as well as the impact of physician factors (e.g., beliefs, knowledge, attitudes) on the quality and outcomes of care at the end of life. Finally, we are developing and validating performance-assessment measures for specialist training in palliative care.

    Select Publications

    • Jackson VA, Sullivan AM, Gadmer NM, Seltzer D, Mitchell AM, Lakoma MD, Arnold RM, Block SD. "It was haunting…" - trauma, grief and missed opportunities for growth: physicians' descriptions of emotionally powerful patient deaths. Acad Med 2005;80:648-56.
    • Holley J, Cohen L, Carmody S, Moss W, Sullivan A, Block SD, Arnold RM. Palliative care training in nephrology. Am J Kidney Dis 2003;42:813-20.
    • Redinbaugh EM, Sullivan AM, Block SD, Gadmer NM, Lakoma M, Mitchell AM, Seltzer D, Wolford J, Arnold RM. Doctors' emotional reactions to the recent death of a patient: a cross-sectional study of attendings and house staff. BMJ 2003;327:185-200.
    • Earle CC, Park E, Lai B, Weeks JC, Ayanian JZ, Block SD. Identifying potential indicators of the quality of end-of-life cancer care from administrative data. J Clin Oncol 2003;21:1133-8.
    • Sullivan AM, Lakoma M, Billings JA, Block SD; PCEP Core Faculty. A faculty development program to enhance faculty clinical and pedagogical competencies in end-of-life care. Acad Med 2005;80;657-68.
    • Rhodes-Kropf J, Carmody SS, Seltzer D, Redinbaugh E, Gadmer N, Block SD, Arnold RM. "This is just too awful; I just can't believe I experienced that…" medical students' reactions to their first deaths. Acad Med 2005;80:634-40.
    • * Kadan-Lottick N, Vanderwerker LC, Block SD, Zhang B, Prigerson JG. Psychiatric disorders and mental health service use in patients with advanced cancer: a report from the Coping with Cancer Study. Cancer (In press).
    • Block SD, Billings JA. Learning from the dying. N Engl J Med 2005;353:1313-5.
    • Balboni TA, Vanderwerker L, Block S, Paulk E, Lathan C, Peteet, J, Prigerson HG. Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life. J Clinical Oncology 2007;25: 555-560
    • Maciejewski PK, Zhang B, Vanderwerker LC, Block SD, Prigerson HG. An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief Resolution. JAMA 2007;297:716-723.
    • Sullivan AM, Lakoma M, Matsuyama R, Rosenblatt, L, Arnold R, Block SD. Diagnosing and discussing imminent death in the hospital: A secondary analysis of physician interviews. J Pall Med 2007;10:882-893.
    • Temel J,Jackson V, Billings JA, Dahlin C, Buss MK, Ostler P, Fidias Panos, Muzikansky A, Pirl W, Block SD, Lynch T Integrated Palliative Care in
      Newly Diagnosed Advanced NSCLC Patients: A Pilot Study . J Clinical Oncology, 2007;
    • Miovic M, Block SD. Psychiatric disorders in advanced cancer. Cancer 2007;110 (8):1665-1676.
    • Jackson VA, Mack J, Matsuyama R, Lakoma MD, Sullivan AM, Arnold RM, Weeks JC, Block SD. A qualitative study of oncologists approaches to end of life care J Palliative Medicine 2008;11:893-906.
    • Mack J. Balboni TA, Trice ED, Nilsson M, Block SD, Friedlander R, Prigerson HG. Peace, Equanimity, and Acceptance in the Cancer Experience (PEACE): Validation of a scale to assess acceptance and struggle with terminal illness. Cancer (2008 April 21;[Epub ahead of print]
    • Smith A, Prigerson HG, Block SD, Paulk E, Balboni T. Mccarthy E. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Advance Care Planning Among Patients with Cancer: Impact of Terminal Illness Acknowledgement, Religiousness, and Treatment Preference. J Clin Oncology 2008: 41314137
    • Wright AA, Ray A, Zhang B, Mack JW, Mitchell SL, Nilsson ME, Trice ED, Block SD, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. Medical Care and Emotional Distress Associated with Advanced Cancer Patients' End-of-Life Discussions with their Physicians. JAMA 2008; 300: 1665-1673
    • Quek R, Morgan JA, George S, Butrynski JA, Polson KM, Demetri GD, Block SD. Small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors and depression. J Clin Oncology (in press)
    • Zhang, B, Wright AA, Huskamp H, Nilsson M, Block SD. Health Care Costs in the Last Week of Life: Associations with End of Life Conversations. Arch Intern Med 2009;March9;169(5):480-488.
    • Smith AK, Fisher J, Schonberg MA, Pallin DJ, Block SD, Forrow L, Phillips RS, McCarthy EP. Am I doing the right thing? Provider perspectives on improving palliative care in the emergency department. Ann Emergency Medicine 2009;54:86-93.
    • Jacobsen, JC, Zhang B, Block SD. Maciejewski PK, Prigerson, HG. Distinguishing Symptoms of Grief and Depression in a Cohort of Advanced Cancer Patients . Death Studies (in press)
    • Loggers ET, Maciejewski P, Paulk E, Balboni T, DeSanto-Madeya S, Nilsson M, Viswanath V, Wright AA, Temel J, Stieglitz H, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Racial differences in predictors of intensive end-of-life care in advanced cancer patient. J Clinical Oncology 2009;
    • Mack JW, Block SD, Nilsson M, Wright A, Trice E, Friedlander R, Paulk E, Prigerson HG. Measuring therapeutic alliance between oncologists and patients with advanced cancer. Cancer 2009; 115: 3303-3311.
    • Phelps A, Maciejewski P, Nilsson M Balboni TA, Wright AA, Paulk ME, Trice E, Schrag D, Peteet JR, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Religious Coping and Use of Intensive Life-Prolonging Care Near Death in Patients With Advanced Cancer. JAMA 2009; 301: 1140-1147.
    • Billings M, Sullivan A, Engelberg, R, Curtis JR, Block SD. Determinants of medical students perceived preparation to perform end-of-life care, quality of end-of-life care education, and attitudes towards end-if-life care. J Palliative Med (in press)
    • Szmuilowicz E, Block SD. Improving residents end-of-life communication skills J Palliative Medicine (in press)
    • Wright A, Mack J, Kritek P, Balboni T, Massaro A, Matulonis U, Block S, Prigerson H. Influence of Patients' Preferences and Treatment Site on Cancer Patients' End-of-Life Care. Cancer (In press)
    • Buss MK, Lessen DS, Sullivan AM, Von Roenn J, Arnold RM, Block SD. A Study of Oncology Fellows Training in End-of-Life Care Supportive Oncology 2007;5(5):237-242.
    • Balboni TA, Paulk ME, Balboni MJ, Phelps AC, Trice Loggers E, Wright A, Lewis E, Peteet J, Block SD, Prigerson HW. Provision of Spiritual Care to Patients With Advanced Cancer: Associations With Medical Care and Quality of Life Near Death. J Clin Oncol 2009;27:1-8
    • Balboni T, Alcorn S, Balboni M, Wright A, Phelps A, Peteet J, Kachnic LA, Block SD, Prigerson HG. If God wanted me yesterday, I wouldnt be here today: Religious and spiritual themes in patients' experiences of advanced cancer J Pall Medicine (in press)
    • Weissman DE, Quill T, Block SD. Missed opportunities in medical school education. J Palliative Medicine (in press)
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