Photo of Susan D. Block,  MD

Susan D. Block, MD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Phone: (617) 582-9202
Fax: (617) 632-6180

Susan D. Block, MD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


  • Professor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Professor, Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
  • Chair, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Physician, Psychiatry, Brigham And Women's Hospital



  • Member, Center Scientific Council

Research Abstract

My current research is focused on developing and testing simple interventions to improve communication about end-of-life care for patients with serious and life-threatening illness. In a collaboration with Ariadne Labs, a laboratory for health systems innovation, we are conducting a randomized controlled trial of a novel, multi-component intervention, the Serious Illness Communication Program, designed to enhance quality of life, peacefulness, and goal-consistent care in patients with cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses. We have demonstrated that the intervention is feasible and acceptable to patients and physicians and are beginning to examine our key outcomes.


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  • Mack JW, Fasciano KM, Block SD. Communication About Prognosis With Adolescent and Young Adult Patients With Cancer: Information Needs, Prognostic Awareness, and Outcomes of Disclosure. J Clin Oncol 2018; 36:1861-1867. PubMed
  • Sanders JJ, Johnson KS, Cannady K, Paladino J, Ford DW, Block SD, Sterba KR. From Barriers to Assets: Rethinking factors impacting advance care planning for African Americans. 2018. PubMed
  • Clark MA, Person SD, Gosline A, Gawande AA, Block SD. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Advance Care Planning: Results of a Statewide Population-Based Survey. J Palliat Med 2018. PubMed
  • Feraco AM, Brand SR, Gagne J, Sullivan A, Block SD, Wolfe J. Development of the "Day 100 Talk": Addressing existing communication gaps during the early cancer treatment period in childhood cancer. Pediatr Blood Cancer 2018. PubMed
  • Meier DE, Back AL, Berman A, Block SD, Corrigan JM, Morrison RS. A National Strategy For Palliative Care. Health Aff (Millwood) 2017; 36:1265-1273. PubMed
  • Lamas DJ, Owens RL, Nace RN, Massaro AF, Pertsch NJ, Moore ST, Bernacki RE, Block SD. Conversations About Goals and Values Are Feasible and Acceptable in Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals: A Pilot Study. J Palliat Med 2017; 20:710-715. PubMed
  • Lakin JR, Koritsanszky LA, Cunningham R, Maloney FL, Neal BJ, Paladino J, Palmor MC, Vogeli C, Ferris TG, Block SD, Gawande AA, Bernacki RE. A Systematic Intervention To Improve Serious Illness Communication In Primary Care. Health Aff (Millwood) 2017; 36:1258-1264. PubMed
  • Miranda SP, Bernacki RE, Paladino JM, Norden AD, Kavanagh JE, Palmor MC, Block SD. A Descriptive Analysis of End-of-Life Conversations With Long-Term Glioblastoma Survivors. Am J Hosp Palliat Care 2017. PubMed
  • Lakin JR, Robinson MG, Bernacki RE, Powers BW, Block SD, Cunningham R, Obermeyer Z. Estimating 1-Year Mortality for High-Risk Primary Care Patients Using the "Surprise" Question. JAMA Intern Med 2016. PubMed
  • Muriel AC, Wolfe J, Block SD. Pediatric Palliative Care and Child Psychiatry: A Model for Enhancing Practice and Collaboration. J Palliat Med 2016; 19:1032-1038. PubMed
  • Ouchi K, Block SD, Schonberg MA, Jamieson ES, Aaronson EL, Pallin DJ, Tulsky JA, Schuur JD. Feasibility Testing of an Emergency Department Screening Tool to Identify Older Adults Appropriate for Palliative Care Consultation. J Palliat Med 2016. PubMed
  • Lamas DJ, Owens RL, Nace RN, Massaro AF, Pertsch NJ, Gass J, Bernacki RE, Block SD. Opening the Door: The Experience of Chronic Critical Illness in a Long-Term Acute Care Hospital. Crit Care Med 2016. PubMed
  • Lakin JR, Block SD, Billings JA, Koritsanszky LA, Cunningham R, Wichmann L, Harvey D, Lamey J, Bernacki RE. Improving Communication About Serious Illness in Primary Care: A Review. JAMA Intern Med 2016; 176:1380-7. PubMed
  • Sanders JJ, Robinson MT, Block SD. Factors Impacting Advance Care Planning among African Americans: Results of a Systematic Integrated Review. J Palliat Med 2016; 19:202-27. PubMed
  • Quill TE, Back AL, Block SD. Responding to Patients Requesting Physician-Assisted Death: Physician Involvement at the Very End of Life. JAMA 2016; 315:245-6. PubMed
  • Cooper Z, Koritsanszky LA, Cauley CE, Frydman JL, Bernacki RE, Mosenthal AC, Gawande AA, Block SD. Recommendations for Best Communication Practices to Facilitate Goal-concordant Care for Seriously Ill Older Patients With Emergency Surgical Conditions. Ann Surg 2015; 263:1-6. PubMed
  • Morris SE, Block SD. Adding Value to Palliative Care Services: The Development of an Institutional Bereavement Program. J Palliat Med 2015. PubMed
  • Mack JW, Cronin A, Fasciano K, Block SD, Keating NL. Cancer treatment decision-making among young adults with lung and colorectal cancer: a comparison with adults in middle age. 2015. PubMed
  • Smith G, Bernacki R, Block SD. The role of palliative care in population management and accountable care organizations. J Palliat Med 2015. PubMed
  • Bernacki R, Hutchings M, Vick J, Smith G, Paladino J, Lipsitz S, Gawande AA, Block SD. Development of the Serious Illness Care Program: a randomised controlled trial of a palliative care communication intervention. BMJ Open 2015; 5:e009032. PubMed
  • Klick JC, Friebert S, Hutton N, Osenga K, Pituch KJ, Vesel T, Weidner N, Block SD, Morrison LJ, . Developing competencies for pediatric hospice and palliative medicine. Pediatrics 2014; 134:e1670-7. PubMed
  • Bernacki RE, Block SD, . Communication about serious illness care goals: a review and synthesis of best practices. JAMA Intern Med 2014. PubMed
  • Obermeyer Z, Makar M, Abujaber S, Dominici F, Block S, Cutler DM. Association between the Medicare hospice benefit and health care utilization and costs for patients with poor-prognosis cancer. JAMA 2014; 312:1888-96. PubMed
  • Litz BT, Schorr Y, Delaney E, Au T, Papa A, Fox AB, Morris S, Nickerson A, Block S, Prigerson HG. A randomized controlled trial of an internet-based therapist-assisted indicated preventive intervention for prolonged grief disorder. Behav Res Ther 2014; 61:23-34. PubMed
  • Schaefer KG, Chittenden EH, Sullivan AM, Periyakoil VS, Morrison LJ, Carey EC, Sanchez-Reilly S, Block SD. Raising the bar for the care of seriously ill patients: results of a national survey to define essential palliative care competencies for medical students and residents. Acad Med 2014; 89:1024-31. PubMed
  • Lamas DJ, Owens RL, Bernacki RE, Block SD. Palliative care: a core competency for intensive care unit doctors. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2014; 189:1569. PubMed
  • Block SD, Billings JA. A need for scalable outpatient palliative care interventions. Lancet 2014. PubMed
  • Bernacki RE, Block SD. Serious illness communications checklist. Virtual Mentor 2013; 15:1045-9. PubMed
  • Billings JA, Block SD. The demise of the Liverpool Care Pathway? A cautionary tale for palliative care. J Palliat Med 2013; 16:1492-5. PubMed
  • Mougalian SS, Lessen DS, Levine RL, Panagopoulos G, Von Roenn JH, Arnold RM, Block SD, Buss MK. Palliative care training and associations with burnout in oncology fellows. J Support Oncol 2013; 11:95-102. PubMed
  • Zhu J, Davis RB, Stuver SO, Berry DL, Block S, Weeks JC, Weingart SN. A longitudinal study of pain variability and its correlates in ambulatory patients with advanced stage cancer. Cancer 2012. PubMed
  • Stuver SO, Isaac T, Weeks JC, Block S, Berry DL, Davis RB, Weingart SN. Factors associated with pain among ambulatory patients with cancer with advanced disease at a comprehensive cancer center. J Oncol Pract 2012; 8:e17-23. PubMed
  • Weingart SN, Cleary A, Stuver SO, Lynch M, Brandoff D, Schaefer KG, Zhu J, Berry DL, Block S, Weeks JC. Assessing the quality of pain care in ambulatory patients with advanced stage cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage 2012; 43:1072-81. PubMed
  • Alexander SC, Sullivan AM, Back AL, Tulsky JA, Goldman RE, Block SD, Stewart SK, Wilson-Genderson M, Lee SJ. Information giving and receiving in hematological malignancy consultations. 2012. PubMed
  • Buss MK, Lessen DS, Sullivan AM, Von Roenn J, Arnold RM, Block SD. Hematology/oncology fellows' training in palliative care: results of a national survey. Cancer 2011. PubMed
  • Balboni MJ, Babar A, Dillinger J, Phelps AC, George E, Block SD, Kachnic L, Hunt J, Peteet J, Prigerson HG, VanderWeele TJ, Balboni TA. "It depends": viewpoints of patients, physicians, and nurses on patient-practitioner prayer in the setting of advanced cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage 2011. PubMed
  • Wright AA, Keating NL, Balboni TA, Matulonis UA, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Place of death: correlations with quality of life of patients with cancer and predictors of bereaved caregivers' mental health. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:4457-64. PubMed
  • Wright AA, Mack JW, Kritek PA, Balboni TA, Massaro AF, Matulonis UA, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Influence of patients' preferences and treatment site on cancer patients' end-of-life care. Cancer 2010; 116:4656-63. PubMed
  • Smith AK, Schonberg MA, Fisher J, Pallin DJ, Block SD, Forrow L, McCarthy EP. Emergency department experiences of acutely symptomatic patients with terminal illness and their family caregivers. J Pain Symptom Manage 2010; 39:972-81. PubMed
  • Alcorn SR, Balboni MJ, Prigerson HG, Reynolds A, Phelps AC, Wright AA, Block SD, Peteet JR, Kachnic LA, Balboni TA. "If God wanted me yesterday, I wouldn't be here today": religious and spiritual themes in patients' experiences of advanced cancer. J Palliat Med 2010; 13:581-8. PubMed
  • Mack JW, Weeks JC, Wright AA, Block SD, Prigerson HG. End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life: predictors and outcomes of receipt of care consistent with preferences. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:1203-8. PubMed
  • Billings ME, Engelberg R, Curtis JR, Block S, Sullivan AM. Determinants of medical students' perceived preparation to perform end-of-life care, quality of end-of-life care education, and attitudes toward end-of-life care. J Palliat Med 2010; 13:319-26. PubMed
  • Jacobsen JC, Zhang B, Block SD, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. Distinguishing Symptoms of Grief and Depression in a Cohort of Advanced Cancer Patients. Death Stud 2010; 34:257-273. PubMed
  • Balboni TA, Paulk ME, Balboni MJ, Phelps AC, Loggers ET, Wright AA, Block SD, Lewis EF, Peteet JR, Prigerson HG. Provision of spiritual care to patients with advanced cancer: associations with medical care and quality of life near death. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:445-52. PubMed
  • Schaefer KG, Block SD. Physician communication with families in the ICU: evidence-based strategies for improvement. Curr Opin Crit Care 2009; 15:569-77. PubMed
  • Loggers ET, Maciejewski PK, Paulk E, Desanto-Madeya S, Nilsson M, Viswanath K, Wright AA, Balboni TA, Temel J, Stieglitz H, Block S, Prigerson HG. Racial Differences in Predictors of Intensive End-of-Life Care in Advanced Cancer Patients. J Clin Oncol 2009; 27:5559-64. PubMed
  • Collins ME, Block SD, Arnold RM, Christakis NA. On the prospects for a blame-free medical culture. Soc Sci Med 2009; 69:1287-90. PubMed
  • Collins ME, Block SD, Arnold RM, Christakis NA. Responsibility and reflection: understanding our responses to perceived errors. A response to Woodward, Lemer and Wu. Soc Sci Med 2009; 69:1294-5. PubMed
  • Prigerson HG, Horowitz MJ, Jacobs SC, Parkes CM, Aslan M, Goodkin K, Raphael B, Marwit SJ, Wortman C, Neimeyer RA, Bonanno G, Block SD, Kissane D, Boelen P, Maercker A, Litz BT, Johnson JG, First MB, Maciejewski PK. Prolonged grief disorder: Psychometric validation of criteria proposed for DSM-V and ICD-11. PLoS Med. 2009; 6:e1000121. PubMed
  • Mack JW,Block SD,Nilsson M,Wright A,Trice E,Friedlander R,Paulk E,Prigerson HG. Measuring therapeutic alliance between oncologists and patients with advanced cancer: the Human Connection Scale. Cancer 2009; 115:3302-11. PubMed
  • Smith AK,Fisher J,Schonberg MA,Pallin DJ,Block SD,Forrow L,Phillips RS,McCarthy EP. Am I Doing the Right Thing? Provider Perspectives on Improving Palliative Care in the Emergency Department. Ann Emerg Med 2009; 54:86-93, 93.e1. PubMed
  • Phelps AC,Maciejewski PK,Nilsson M,Balboni TA,Wright AA,Paulk ME,Trice E,Schrag D,Peteet JR,Block SD,Prigerson HG. Religious coping and use of intensive life-prolonging care near death in patients with advanced cancer. JAMA 2009; 301:1140-7. PubMed
  • Zhang B,Wright AA,Huskamp HA,Nilsson ME,Maciejewski ML,Earle CC,Block SD,Maciejewski PK,Prigerson HG. Health care costs in the last week of life: associations with end-of-life conversations. Arch Intern Med 2009; 169:480-8. PubMed
  • Sullivan AM,Gadmer NM,Block SD. The project on death in America faculty scholars program: a report on scholars' progress. J Palliat Med 2009; 12:155-9. PubMed
  • Nilsson ME,Maciejewski PK,Zhang B,Wright AA,Trice ED,Muriel AC,Friedlander RJ,Fasciano KM,Block SD,Prigerson HG. Mental health, treatment preferences, advance care planning, location, and quality of death in advanced cancer patients with dependent children. Cancer 2008; 115:399-409. PubMed
  • Quek R,Morgan JA,George S,Butrynski JE,Polson K,Meyer F,Demetri GD,Block SD. Small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor and depression. J Clin Oncol 2008; 27:312-3. PubMed
  • Wright AA,Zhang B,Ray A,Mack JW,Trice E,Balboni T,Mitchell SL,Jackson VA,Block SD,Maciejewski PK,Prigerson HG. Associations between end-of-life discussions, patient mental health, medical care near death, and caregiver bereavement adjustment. JAMA 2008; 300:1665-73. PubMed
  • Smith AK,McCarthy EP,Paulk E,Balboni TA,Maciejewski PK,Block SD,Prigerson HG. Racial and ethnic differences in advance care planning among patients with cancer: impact of terminal illness acknowledgment, religiousness, and treatment preferences. J Clin Oncol 2008; 26:4131-7. PubMed
  • Jackson VA,Mack J,Matsuyama R,Lakoma MD,Sullivan AM,Arnold RM,Weeks JC,Block SD. A qualitative study of oncologists' approaches to end-of-life care. J Palliat Med 2008; 11:893-906. PubMed
  • Mack JW, Nilsson M, Balboni T, Friedlander RJ, Block SD, Trice E, Prigerson HG. Peace, Equanimity, and Acceptance in the cancer experience (PEACE): validation of a scale to assess acceptance and struggle with terminal illness. Cancer 2008; 112:2509-17. PubMed
  • Periyakoil VS, Block SD. Learning from a life in medicine. J Palliat Med 2008; 11:434-7. PubMed
  • Hammel JF, Sullivan AM, Block SD, Twycross R. End-of-life and palliative care education for final-year medical students: a comparison of Britain and the United States. J Palliat Med 2007; 10:1356-66. PubMed
  • Miovic M, Block S. Psychiatric disorders in advanced cancer. Cancer 2007; 110:1665-76. PubMed
  • Sullivan AM, Lakoma MD, Matsuyama RK, Rosenblatt L, Arnold RM, Block SD. Diagnosing and discussing imminent death in the hospital: a secondary analysis of physician interviews. J Palliat Med 2007; 10:882-93. PubMed
  • Smith AK, Buss MK, Giansiracusa DF, Block SD. On being fired: experiences of patient-initiated termination of the patient-physician relationship in palliative medicine. J Palliat Med 2007; 10:938-47. PubMed
  • Temel JS, Jackson VA, Billings JA, Dahlin C, Block SD, Buss MK, Ostler P, Fidias P, Muzikansky A, Greer JA, Pirl WF, Lynch TJ. Phase II study: integrated palliative care in newly diagnosed advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients. J Clin Oncol 2007; 25:2377-82. PubMed
  • Buss MK, Lessen DS, Sullivan AM, Von Roenn J, Arnold RM, Block SD. A study of oncology fellows' training in end-of-life care. J Support Oncol 2007; 5:237-42. PubMed
  • Morrison LJ, Scott JO, Block SD,. Developing initial competency-based outcomes for the hospice and palliative medicine subspecialist: phase I of the hospice and palliative medicine competencies project. J Palliat Med 2007; 10:313-30. PubMed
  • Maciejewski PK, Zhang B, Block SD, Prigerson HG. An empirical examination of the stage theory of grief. JAMA 2007; 297:716-23. PubMed
  • Balboni TA, Vanderwerker LC, Block SD, Paulk ME, Lathan CS, Peteet JR, Prigerson HG. Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life. J Clin Oncol 2007; 25:555-60. PubMed
  • Parsons SK, Saiki-Craighill S, Mayer DK, Sullivan AM, Jeruss S, Terrin N, Tighiouart H, Nakagawa K, Iwata Y, Hara J, Grier HE, Block S. Telling children and adolescents about their cancer diagnosis: cross-cultural comparisons between pediatric oncologists in the US and Japan. Psychooncology 2007; 16:60-8. PubMed
  • Ray A, Block SD, Friedlander RJ, Zhang B, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. Peaceful awareness in patients with advanced cancer. J Palliat Med 2006; 9:1359-68. PubMed
  • Bambauer KZ, Zhang B, Maciejewski PK, Sahay N, Pirl WF, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Mutuality and specificity of mental disorders in advanced cancer patients and caregivers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2006; 41:819-24. PubMed
  • Sullivan AM, Lakoma MD, Billings JA, Peters AS, Block SD,. Creating enduring change: demonstrating the long-term impact of a faculty development program in palliative care. J Gen Intern Med 2006; 21:907-14. PubMed
  • Smith AK, Ries AP, Zhang B, Tulsky JA, Prigerson HG, Block SD. Resident approaches to advance care planning on the day of hospital admission. Arch Intern Med 2006; 166:1597-602. PubMed
  • Block SD. Diagnosis and treatment of depression in patients with advanced illness. Epidemiol Psichiatr Soc 2010; 19:103-9. PubMed