The 2012 Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Awards in the senior career category honor Janet Bull, MD, chief medical officer and principal investigator of Four Seasons, a nonprofit hospice and palliative care organization that serves the Hendersonville and Asheville regions of western North Carolina.

A pioneer in establishing best practices in hospice and palliative care, Dr. Bull is passionately committed to improving the care of patients at the end of life – locally, nationally, and globally. She was instrumental in establishing the palliative care program at Four Seasons in 2003 and two years later founded what is now a nationally recognized clinical research department that studies methods to help lessen patients’ suffering. She has served as principal investigator on more than 30 clinical trials. She also designed the Palliative Care Immersion Course, an experiential learning program offered to clinicians from around the country, which trained more than 50 physicians in 2011.

In addition to speaking frequently on hospice and palliative medicine in the U.S., Dr. Bull has provided clinical, technical, and leadership support for the development of palliative care in Africa. In 2010 she traveled to Zambia to work with its palliative care association to create a strategic plan for training, educational exchange, and workforce and capacity development. While there, she helped establish a center of excellence for training and mentorship.

In nominating her, Chris Comeaux, president and chief executive officer of Four Seasons, said of Dr. Bull, “Her career path is marked by an unusual ability to draw together distinct poles: beginning of life and end of life, academic-based and community-based, research and clinical, and, by closing these gaps, clarify the meaning of high-quality, whole-person health care.”

Dr. Bull’s own words speak to her ability to find and learn from commonality across the entire spectrum of human experience. “I have probably attended as many deaths as I have births,” she said when asked recently about her relationship with patients. “I find the similarities uncanny. There is a sacredness that surrounds them both. A good birth and a good death are filled with the same ingredients – laughter, tears, peacefulness, joy, love and an incredible sense of awe. My purpose has been to help guide my patients through these transitions.”

She received her medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in 1981.