Dignity in Care: An Overview of My Research Career: An interview with Professor Harvey Max Chochinov, winner of the 2021 EAPC Clinical Impact Award


Highlights of every European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) Congress are the EAPC Researcher Awards. Awarded jointly by the EAPC and the EAPC Research Network (RN), these awards recognise and support the work of scientists and clinicians in the field of palliative care who make an outstanding contribution to research and clinical practice.

We talk to Harvey Max Chochinov, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba,Canada, about his pioneering research work with Dignity Model and Dignity Therapy that has led to his winning the 2021 EAPC Clinical Impact Award 2021.

Professor Harvey Chochinov

What, or who, was your inspiration for a career in palliative care?

Harvey Max Chochinov: I started out interested in the interface between psychiatry and cancer. This led to doing a fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering where I trained with Jimmie Holland, William Breitbart, Kathy Foley, and Nessa Coyle. When I returned to Canada in the late 1980s, I had some wonderful mentorship from a research psychologist named Keith Wilson. He guided me through my first successful grants, which launched my career in palliative care. In those early years, like many people, I was inspired by Dame Cicely Saunders; and the prolific output of researchers like Eduardo Bruera and Irene Higginson. 

Can you tell us briefly about the research that has led to your winning this award and some of the main findings?

HMC: Early on in my research career, I was exploring things that were more traditionally within the realm of psychiatry, but in the context of terminal illness. We published studies on the prevalence of depression in the terminally ill, screening approaches for depression for patients nearing death and hopelessness as a predictor of suicidal ideation. We also conducted some of the earlier studies on desire for death in the terminally ill and will to live, examining their correlates and temporal stability.  

This then segued to a program of research focused on the notion of dignity at end of life. This led to an empirical model of dignity in the terminally ill, which was the basis for developing a screening tool for dignity related distress, coined the Patient Dignity Inventory, which has been translated in about a dozen languages. As part of my interest in how to affirm personhood for dying patients, and based on the empirical model, we developed a brief, individualized psychotherapy we called Dignity Therapy. This legacy-based intervention has been studied extensively worldwide and has been shown to enhance various dimensions of end-of-life experience.

We’ve heard that Canadian Virtual Hospice, which you founded, notched up an impressive 2.3 million views last year from professionals and the public. Please tell us more, and how can researchers use this to their benefit?

HMC: The user base is closer to 2.6 million “virtually” from every country on the globe. We have become the most comprehensive online platform on palliative and end-of-life care and grief in the world. In recent years we have championed the needs of underserved populations, and by deploying our user experienced based design approach and robust evaluation, we have honed engagement that melds lived experience with latest knowledge for tailored, impactful supports/tools/resources. We routinely work with research teams to translate and disseminate knowledge to improve care and advance progress in palliative care.

How do you see your role (and palliative care researchers in general) linked to that of clinicians? 

HMC: I think researchers and clinicians need to work hand in glove. I have never done a research project that hasn’t included strong clinical collaborators. Clinicians bring an invaluable and practical perspective and can affirm if our ideas are well grounded in real world experience. We also need them to be our allies if the research is to be accepted and accommodated by clinical staff who are often preoccupied with so many other activities and responsibilities. Palliative care clinicians rightfully challenge us with the ‘so what’ question, meaning they need to see how the research can make a difference at the bedside. Without their alliance and buy-in, research in this vulnerable population is simply not possible.   

What does winning the EAPC Clinical Impact Award mean to you? 

HMC: It is an honour to be recognised by the EAPC. One doesn’t do this work for the recognition, but I like to think, giving that this is a Clinical Impact Award, that the research is being recognised for the influence it has had and is having on patient care and their families. That is really the ultimate award; knowing that these insights and clinical innovations are making a difference in the lives of people dealing with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses. 

Let’s talk about life outside of palliative care: What’s your favourite novel?

HMC: At one time I was an avid reader of fiction and enjoyed works by authors such as Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Gabrielle Roy, Howard Fast, Gabriel García Márquez and the classics such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The past decade I have become more of a fan of well-written history and biography and have read most of the books written by David McCullough, Walter Isaacson, Doris Kearns-Goodwin and Robert Caro. 

If you are registered for the EAPC World Congress, please Join Prof Harvey Chochinov, Dr Erica Borgstrom and Dr Bárbara Antunes at 6pm CET on Thursday, 7 October at the EAPC Research Award session.

Links and resources

Important information for registered congress delegates – view all on-demand content on the congress platform until 31 January 2022

Professor Chochinov’s presentation, Dignity in Care: An Overview of My Research Career’  is available until 31 January 2022. Click on the above link or access the platform and login here.


This entry was posted in 17th EAPC World Congress, EAPC Researcher Awards, EAPC World Congresses, RESEARCH and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dignity in Care: An Overview of My Research Career: An interview with Professor Harvey Max Chochinov, winner of the 2021 EAPC Clinical Impact Award

  1. bcpantunes says:

    Congratulations! Very well deserved!

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