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Patients and Caregiver Stories

Providence palliative physician lands prestigious clinical scholarship

Matthew Gonzales, M.D., a software engineer-turned palliative care physician, is among 10 physicians and nurses named into Cambia Health Foundation’s national 2017 Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program.

The Sojourns program cultivates and advances the next generation of palliative care leaders from across the country.

Each scholar receives a two-year, $180,000 grant to support research, clinical, educational or policy projects. Scholars also receive mentoring and leadership training.

Dr. Gonzales, an associate medical director at the Providence Institute for Human Caring, will use the grant to continue customizing the Epic electronic health record (EHR) to make it easier for providers to practice and measure their success at delivering whole person care.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of humanistic medicine and informatics,” Dr. Gonzales said. “The EHR can actually aid the delivery of person-centered care.” He added that he's looking forward to working closely with informatics and health care intelligence teams to realize this vision.

As a teen, Dr. Gonzales saw his uncle succumb to a serious illness.

The traumatic episode led him on a dual-track career path. Prior to medical school while at Stanford University, he wrote code for a computer system that helped doctors develop personalized anti-HIV therapies. That system has been adapted for use in Africa.

Dr. Gonzales later entered a palliative care fellowship at UCSF School of Medicine.

“Early in my clinical practice, I saw that we often spend time fighting the wrong fight,” Dr. Gonzales said. “Despite all of our technological medical advancements, people often died horribly. They died in physical or emotional pain, with unresolved feelings and regrets.

“The fundamental human experience of dying was being neglected,” he added. “I was relieved to see another way: healing can be possible, even when cure is not. It became clear to me during my palliative care fellowship that this was my life’s work.”

Working with informaticists across Providence St. Joseph Health, Dr. Gonzales has modified Epic to capture advance directives and goals of care conversations. More recently, he has worked with Xealth, which allows physicians to “prescribe” videos from Epic directly into patient MyChart accounts.

“I’m humbled and honored to be among those selected for this year’s Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program, and thank Cambia for this amazing opportunity,” Dr. Gonzales said. “This would not have been possible without the support of my colleagues at the institute, and the palliative care field as a whole.”

Ira Byock, M.D., founder and chief medical officer of the institute, said, “We look forward to seeing Matt realize his vision of an electronic health record that actually makes it easier for all of us in health care to do the right thing – honor patient wishes.”