Diana Wilkie, a professor at the UF College of Nursing, is an international expert on pain management and patient care. She specializes in palliative care, which is a type of medical care for people living with serious conditions that emphasizes relief from its symptoms and stresses. But although palliative care is typically associated with end-of-life care, Wilkie’s work highlights the role it can play in all patient care.
“Symptom or pain management is something that everyone needs if they’re having any health concerns. I’ve believed that for my entire career,” said Wilkie in a statement. “If we are able to promise people comfort, I think it will really change society’s perception of health care.”
Wilkie, who is also the director of the UF Center of Excellence in Palliative Care, earned her master’s degree in nursing and her Ph.D. in nursing and cancer pain management from the University of California, San Francisco. Her earliest experience in palliative care was when she trained as a hospice nurse to continue treating a pancreatic cancer patient who decided to transition to end-of-life care – only to find the volunteer-staffed facility didn’t have any nurses available.
“He wanted to die at home, so we asked for a hospice referral, but no one could take him. So I trained to be his nurse,” Wilkie said in another statement. “That experience let me see that dying could happen in a different way.”
Researchers have found that reducing patient pain plays a key role in improving their treatments and extending their life expectancies if their condition is severe, including in cancer patients. Wilkie is also the co-leader of Cancer Population Sciences in the UF Health Cancer Center and the co-director of the Florida-California Cancer Research, Education and Engagement Health Equity Center.
“It’s really important to recognize that palliative care provided during the time when someone is receiving treatment can result in better cancer care outcomes,” she said.
Wilkie, who arrived at UF in 2015, has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed research papers and won grants totaling nearly $70 million. Much of her research has centered on uncovering the types of pain cancer patients experience and how clinicians can identify it. She has also helped design and implement new technology that can detect patient pain based on facial expressions and help patients describe their pain to clinicians.
Learn more about Wilkie’s work.
Wilkie was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2012.