Updates on campus events, policies, construction and more.


Information for Our Community

Whether you are part of our community or are interested in joining us, we welcome you to Washington University School of Medicine.


Visit the News Hub

Parker-Oliver named to chair in palliative medicine and supportive care

Kodner chair created with gift from Anne and John McDonnell

by Jim DrydenSeptember 16, 2022

Tim Parker

Debra Parker-Oliver, PhD, a noted expert in end-of-life caregiving and a recent addition to the Division of Palliative Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been named the inaugural holder of the Dr. Ira Kodner, MD, Chair in Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care.

The chair was created through a gift to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital from philanthropists John and Anne McDonnell.

Parker-Oliver is a nationally known research mentor who has studied caregiving in hospice and palliative care. Her work in the Division of Palliative Medicine, along with an appointment at the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, allow her to focus her research on helping family caregivers of dying patients.

Palliative medicine and hospice care concentrate on relieving suffering for patients with advanced diseases. The goal is to address symptoms while using compassionate communication and psychosocial and spiritual support to enhance quality of life for patients and members of their families.

The McDonnell’s gift to the foundation created the chair honoring Ira J. Kodner, MD, professor emeritus of surgery and former chief of the Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery in the Department of Surgery. It was Kodner who introduced the couple to the impact supportive care could have on the delivery of all medical care through the transition to the care provided at the end of life. Kodner has authored several articles about the ethical challenges involved in delivering health care. He also taught medical and surgical ethics and was involved in establishing the palliative care program at Washington University.

John McDonnell retired as chairman of the board of McDonnell Douglas Corp. after guiding its merger with Boeing Co. He since has worked to establish St. Louis as a leading center for bioscience research and innovative technologies. He is the founding chair of BioSTL and BioGenerator and serves on the board of the Cortex Innovation Community, the city’s innovation hub and technology district. He also is a longtime supporter of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the St. Louis Science Center.

Anne McDonnell’s many efforts to improve the St. Louis region include work to revive the historic Soulard neighborhood in south St. Louis. Through the BSB Development Co., she has rehabbed 19th century row houses into modern, affordable apartment units. She also has supported the SouthSide Early Childhood Center, University City Children’s Center and a number of elementary and secondary schools, both public and private.

The McDonnells and their family also have made significant contributions to advance Washington University’s status as a world leader in research, education and service to society, endowing numerous professorships, scholarships, buildings and academic programs, including the McDonnell International Scholars Academy, a global research and education partnership.

Before joining the faculty at Washington University, Parker-Oliver was a professor at the University of Missouri in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She serves on the board of directors of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and as a senior associate editor for the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

“We are excited to have an outstanding researcher and experienced hospice care provider  in this endowed position,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine at Washington University. “Debra has spent more than 20 years as a social worker and administrator in hospice programs, and her research and experience make her an ideal member of our team in palliative medicine and supportive care.”

Parker-Oliver earned her master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in rural sociology at the University of Missouri. She has authored nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles and a book about palliative and hospice care.

In September 2011, her husband, David, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Parker-Oliver and her husband benefited from palliative care and hospice. The couple created a blog to share the journey with others, and it attracted readers from more than 70 countries. After her husband’s death, Parker-Oliver shared even more in a memoir titled “Legacies from the Living Room: A Love-Grief Equation.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to hold the Kodner chair, which honors one of Washington University’s greatest advocates for palliative medicine, and to work with so many wonderful caregivers at the university, Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College and throughout the BJC system,” Parker-Oliver said. “I am especially grateful to the McDonnells, to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and to BJC HealthCare for their commitment to palliative and end-of-life care. I believe our efforts can help improve life for patients, for their families and for the caregivers who do this very important work.”

About Washington University School of Medicine

WashU Medicine is a global leader in academic medicine, including biomedical research, patient care and educational programs with 2,700 faculty. Its National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding portfolio is the fourth largest among U.S. medical schools, has grown 54% in the last five years, and, together with institutional investment, WashU Medicine commits well over $1 billion annually to basic and clinical research innovation and training. Its faculty practice is consistently within the top five in the country, with more than 1,790 faculty physicians practicing at over 60 locations and who are also the medical staffs of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals of BJC HealthCare. WashU Medicine has a storied history in MD/PhD training, recently dedicated $100 million to scholarships and curriculum renewal for its medical students, and is home to top-notch training programs in every medical subspecialty as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology and communications sciences.

Jim retired from WashU Medicine Marketing & Communications in 2023. While at WashU Medicine, Jim covered psychiatry and neuroscience, pain and opioid research, orthopedics, diabetes, obesity, nutrition and aging. He formerly worked at KWMU (now St. Louis Public Radio) as a reporter and anchor, and his stories from the Midwest also were broadcast on NPR. Jim hosted the School of Medicine's Show Me the Science podcast, which highlights the outstanding research, education and clinical care underway at the School of Medicine. He has a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.