Chandana Banerjee (WAG ’03)
MPA in Health Policy and Management
Improving End-of-Life Living
By David Hollander
Portrait by Simons Finnerty
Working with vulnerable populations was always Chandana Banerjee’s dream; it’s what inspired her to take a position at a managed care company following her graduation from the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. But her father’s unexpected death following a simple hernia surgery turned her world upside down. “What bothered me most,” she says, “was how he died—confused and disoriented and probably uncomfortable.” Banerjee realized that people near life’s end had no allies in the medical world. “The prevailing attitude,” she says, “is that once a prognosis of death is given, medical care is over.”
Driven to fill this void, Banerjee dropped everything in order to pursue a medical degree, focusing on the often neglected area of palliative care. With clinical degree and residency experience in hand, Banerjee joined the staff of City of Hope in Duarte, California, just outside Los Angeles. She’s now dean of graduate medical education at the world-renowned cancer institute.
Banerjee set to work empowering doctors and patients to make informed, compassionate decisions during life’s final stage. She created a palliative medicine fellowship and guided policy that supports patient control over end-of-life decisions, including the choice to die. She also established an End of Life Symposium that has already trained more than 15,000 physicians. Banerjee has been widely recognized as an advocate and thought leader in end-of-life care, but she’s eyeing bigger goals. “We need permanent, structural change in medical training,” she says, “and a focus on the entire circle of life and death.”