Developing a Roadmap for Goals of Care Conversations at Duke Health (2023-2024)


Patients who are facing a serious illness must make numerous complex healthcare decisions that will determine what treatment they receive, what their quality of life will be and how long they will survive. Too often, patients and their families must make these decisions without adequate communication about their hopes, fears, values and goals. The result is that many patients receive more treatment than they’d like, or treatment that is intended to prolong survival, when their goals are actually to maximize comfort and preserve their quality of life.

Patients who don’t have access to open, accurate and empathetic communication about their goals can receive treatment that is overly aggressive and costly, which creates financial burdens for them and for their families. Poor communication also leads to increased side effects of treatment that could have been avoided, and worse quality of life due to additional time undergoing unnecessary tests and treatment. 

Overtreatment near the end of life has become one of the key issues facing U.S. healthcare policy today. There is an ongoing need for interdisciplinary efforts to provide care that is concordant with patients’ goals.

Project Description is a collaboration between Duke Health (including the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing) and Duke University. The aim is to implement a roadmap for goals of care conversations for patients with serious illness at Duke Health. Led by Duke Palliative Care and supported by the health system and its academic partners, is Duke Health’s strategy for ensuring that all patients have access to open, accurate and empathetic communication about their goals for care.

Building on the work of previous teams, this project will investigate patient-provider communication in two complementary ways via a “hub and spoke” model.

Mentored projects (“spokes”): First, each team member will be assigned to a mentor on the team. Students will work on projects within the mentor’s field of research, selected for their fit with’s overarching aim of improving communication in serious illness.

Central activities (“hub”): In addition to individual mentored projects, team members will participate in a series of works-in-progress groups and seminars. These sessions will be arranged throughout the year, occurring 2-4 times per month, and will be designed to allow students to share the results of their projects with other students and faculty. These sessions will also introduce students to palliative care clinicians so that they can learn about how these providers came to practice in this field. Students will also meet individually every month with the project manager to discuss educational and professional goals.

Anticipated Outputs

Policy-relevant results suitable for publication or inclusion in a grant proposal; presentations to Duke Health leadership; presentations at national meetings

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 1 graduate student and 7 undergraduate students. While this project is open to including almost any discipline or major, interested students may come from the social sciences, data science, computer science, humanities, ethics and theology. Additionally, in line with efforts made by Duke Palliative Care to ensure racial and ethnic diversity within its programs, will aspire to create a collaborative community that mirrors the health system and its patient population. 

Learners who participate in this project will have the chance to become familiar with healthcare approaches to improving patient-centered care, engage with clinical stakeholders, contribute to publications and presentations, participate in data management/analysis, learn how to communicate within a multidisciplinary team and benefit from professional development and feedback.

Some students may have the opportunity to travel to conferences to present their work. This project includes an optional summer component in Summer 2023.

Simran Bansal will serve as project manager.


Summer 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Beginning work with research mentors
  • Fall 2023: Onboarding; addition to existing Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols; training; beginning data collection and/or coding of existing data
  • Spring 2024: Continuation of data collection; initial analysis; presentation at biweekly meetings, Duke Palliative Care “Thinkubator” sessions and regional or national conferences; manuscript preparation


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

This Team in the News

Duke Reaches Halfway Mark for Goals-of-Care Conversations with Seriously Ill Patients

See related earlier team, REGAIN: Roadmap for Evaluating Goals in Advanced Illness Navigation (2022-2023).


Image: Goals of Care, by Duke School of Medicine, Department of Medicine

Diagram of goal-concordant care, showing that documentation, education and reporting all lead into it.

Team Leaders

  • Natalie Ashley, Palliative Care, Duke University Health System
  • David Casarett, School of Medicine-Medicine: General Internal Medicine

/graduate Team Members

  • Kayla Thompson, Business Administration-MBA, Medicine MD Third Year
  • Juliet Dalton, Biomedical Sciences
  • Dakota Douglas, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Julia Gambino, Biology (BS)
  • Matthew Nuzzolo, Biology (BS)
  • Nikhita Nanduri, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Sai Rachakonda, Program II (AB)
  • Daniel Lee, Biology (BS)
  • Astha Ray, Biology (BS)
  • Dorian Ho, Robertson Scholarship - UNC
  • Jaden Sacks
  • Saisha Dhar, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Samantha Cohen
  • Breanna Barrett, Psychology (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Thomas Leblanc, School of Medicine-Medicine: Hematology
  • Sharla Rent, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Neonatology
  • Katherine Ramos, School of Medicine-Psychiatry: Behavioral Medicine
  • Laura Porter, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Judith Vick, School of Medicine-Medicine: General Internal Medicine
  • Jessica Ma, School of Medicine-Medicine: General Internal Medicine
  • Monica Lemmon, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Neurology
  • Deepshikha Ashana, School of Medicine-Medicine: Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine
  • Brystana Kaufman, Fuqua School of Business-Health Sector Management Program
  • Margaret Johnson, School of Medicine-Neurosurgery
  • Sharron Docherty, School of Nursing
  • Simran Bansal, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Neurology

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Duke University Health System