SCHOOL OF MEDICINE  |  PITT HOME  |  FIND PEOPLE  |  FIND A DOCTOR AT UPMC

Department of Medicine

Department of Medicine

  Division of General Internal Medicine

Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics


Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics


Meet Our Team


Pamela Abels joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics as an administrative assistant. She earned her BA in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and an MA in Nationalism Studies from Central European University in Budapest. She has several years of administrative experience in non-profit and business settings.

Mary M. Alberth, MSW, LCSW, is a Senior Social Worker with the Supportive and Palliative Care program at UPMC Presbyterian. Her primary role is to work collaboratively with the Palliative Care team to provide support to patients and their families during discussions about goals of care for patients with life-limiting illnesses. This often includes helping patients transition to care in the community with palliative and hospice services and assisting families in navigating financial systems to obtain needed services.

Mary earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and Master of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the Palliative Care team, she provided social work support for many service lines at UPMC Presbyterian, including the Neurovascular ICU, Surgical ICU, Cardiology Pavilion, as well as neurology, neurosurgery, and thoracic surgery units. Mary has also worked in child protective services, addiction treatment for adolescents, mental health services for children and their families, and health psychology research completing interviews and supportive interventions with women diagnosed with early and late stage breast cancer, survivors of spinal cord injury and their family caregivers, and family caregivers of persons with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.


Robert M. Arnold, MD, is a Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and in the University of Pittsburgh Center for Bioethics and Health Law. He completed his medical school training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and residency at Rhode Island Hospital. Subsequently he has been on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2000, Dr. Arnold was named the first Leo H. Creip Chair of Patient Care. The chair emphasizes the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, particularly at the end of life. He is the Director of the Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication and the Medical Director of the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute. He is clinically active in palliative care.

Dr. Arnold has published on end-of-life care, hospice and palliative care, doctor-patient communication and ethics education. His current research interests are focused on educational interventions to improve communication in life-limiting illnesses and better understanding how ethical precepts are operationalized in clinical practice. He also is working with the UPMC Health System to develop system-wide, integrative palliative services throughout the health system. He is the Past-President of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities as well as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.


Amar Bansal, MD , is an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine, and the Section of Palliative and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. He is interested in clinical care for adult patients of all ages with chronic kidney disease. He also has a focus on outpatient care for patients with the following conditions: 1) advanced age or other serious comorbidities; 2) patients who may be interested in discussing aggressive management of their kidney disease without using dialysis; 3) patients living with cancer who have kidney disease.

Mamta Bhatnagar, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her medical education at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi, India and completed an internal medicine residency at St Vincent Charity Hospital, Case Western University in Ohio. Dr. Bhatnagar subsequently completed a fellowship in Geriatrics from the Cleveland Clinic and a palliative medicine fellowship from Summa Hospital Health System in Ohio.

Dr. Bhatnagar has written on frailty in palliative care, weight loss in the elderly and the side effects of psychoactive medications in older adults. She has successfully completed a Masters in Clinical Research at University of Pittsburgh and completed research projects exploring the importance of functional status to quality of life in palliative care patients and their clinicians. Dr. Bhatnagar serves as the Medical Advisor for the Supportive and Palliative Care clinical services at UPMC Shadyside campus. Her clinical responsibilities include Supportive and Palliative Care inpatient consults at both UPMC Shadyside and Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC. She also staffs a Supportive Care Clinic at Benedum as well as a Cognitive Assessment Clinic at General Internal Medicine.


Chris Chavlick joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics as an administrative assistant. She is currently enrolled in the Nonprofit Management program at the University of Pittsburgh and has over 20 years of administrative experience. She recently worked for the Office of Child Development at Pitt as an executive assistant to the co-directors. Prior to that, she worked as the assistant to the Director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology section at UPMC Presbyterian.


Julie W. Childers, MD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2005 and completed residency training in internal medicine at the University of Rochester in 2008. She completed fellowship training in palliative care in 2009 and obtained a master's degree in medical education from the Clinician Educator Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. She joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh in July of 2010 as an Assistant Professor of Medicine.

She serves as an attending physician on the inpatient consultation service and has an outpatient palliative care clinic at the Hillman Cancer Center. In addition, she founded the Suboxone Clinic within General Internal Medicine to provide services to patients with opioid addiction. Her academic interests include teaching communication skills and treating pain in patients with co-occurring addiction disorders.


René N. Claxton, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She completed her medical school training at the University of Florida, internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia and palliative medicine fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. She also completed a master's degree in Medical Education at the University of Pittsburgh. She is clinically active in the palliative care inpatient and outpatient settings and serves as the subspecialty education coordinator for the Section of Palliative Care and Ethics.


Alycia J. Dalbey PA-C is a Physician Assistant for the UPMC Supportive and Palliative Care consult team at UPMC Shadyside campus. Her role is to evaluate and support patients on the palliative care consult service in the areas of pain and symptom management, hospice evaluation, and goals of care. She is excited to be a member of this multi-disciplinary team and care for patients with serious illness.

Alycia earned a BS in Nutritional Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University in 2006 and completed her Masters of Physician Assistant Studies from Chatham University in 2008. Her work prior to joining the Palliative Care team was in Internal Medicine and Cardiology


Scott Freeman, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of UPMC's fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. He completed his medical school training at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, NY and his Internal Medicine residency at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Subsequently he spent a year as a hospitalist at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, PA. Prior to medical school, Scott worked in commercial real estate with an investment research and advisory group.

Dr. Freeman's primary role is clinical and involves rounding on the palliative care consult services at UPMC Presbyterian and Shadyside Hospitals. In this role, he focuses on optimizing pain and symptom management as well as addressing goals of care with patients and their families.


Roberta Gillespie, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant with the Supportive and Palliative Care Program at UPMC Presbyterian. Her primary role is providing inpatient hospital consults for patients with life-limiting illnesses, helping with the management of symptoms as well as end-of-life issues.

Roberta earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh and an MPA from Duquesne University. She has experience in medical, surgical and gynecologic oncology in both the inpatient and outpatient setting.


Kimberly L. Gottschalk, MBA, Director, UPMC Inpatient and Outpatient Palliative Care Services is responsible for the oversight and management for all inpatient and outpatient supportive and palliative care clinical services within the UPMC Health System. Prior to transitioning to this position in November 2015 – Kim served as the Administrative Director for the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. In this capacity, she managed the administrative responsibilities of the UPMC Supportive and Palliative Care inpatient and outpatient consult services for the Oakland and Shadyside hospitals. She also oversaw the academic and research activities for the faculty members. Kimberly has a Bachelor’s degree from the School of Health Related Professions and a Master’s degree in business administration from the Katz Graduate School of Business, both from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional background includes extensive experience in medical specialty practice management as well as a prior appointment as an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine-Dental Hygiene Department.


Rebecca (“Becca”) M. Hoelsken, MSN, CRNP, CRM, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, 1987. She took her first position as a nurse on the Liver Transplant Unit at Presbyterian Hospital, working with Thomas Starzl, MD. From there she moved on to various positions as a Staff Nurse, working in the ICU/PACU, Nursing Education and Research, and finally Medical Oncology-solid tumors. She credits those early years in nursing with shaping her professional career, which is informed by a desire to always look for ways to improve patient care, and to eagerly engage in new learning experiences.

Becca went on to receive her master’s degree in Nursing Science and CRNP from LaRoche College in 1997. She again held several positions, including in Internal Medicine and Primary Care and a Liver Disease Clinic/Transplant Center in Phoenix, AZ, before finally making her way back to UPMC where she took a position at Shadyside Hospital in Surgical Oncology. In this position, she grew both professionally and personally, and developed a love for palliative care. She decided to pursue a position in this area, and has been with our Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics since 2015, where she is challenged daily. She is developing a Reiki Therapy Program at Shadyside in which Nursing and Medical staff provide Reiki to patients.

Sharon Hudak, RN, BSN, BC, is the Supportive Services Nurse Liaison for the newly established UPMC Supportive Services Program at UPMC Presbyterian/Montefiore Hospitals. As the nurse liaison, she completes an assessment on UPMC Health Plan patients who are at risk for readmissions and decreased quality of life. When a patient qualifies for the program, she and the Supportive Services team will follow the patient as consultants throughout their hospital stay and up to 30 days after discharge. She works in collaboration with the on-site case manager, the attending physician, the patient’s primary care physician and the UPMC Health Plan case manager to facilitate coordination of care.

Sharon received her BSN from the University of Pittsburgh. She is certified in Cardiac Vascular Nursing by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Currently, she is enrolled in St. Joseph’s College of Maine’s Masters in Nursing Administration Program. Her professional background includes Director of Nursing at a long term care facility, Quality Assurance Coordinator at a free-standing outpatient surgery center and cardio-thoracic nursing.


Susan Jessell, CRNP, ACHPN, is currently a Nurse Practitioner at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in the Pain and Supportive Care Outpatient Clinic. From 2006 to 2010 she was employed by West Penn Hospital where she worked in developing their Palliative Care consulting service. Susan received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh and has Advanced Certification in Hospice and Palliative Nursing. She also completed the Advanced Practice ELNEC training. She has over 25 years of experience in hospice and palliative care.in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics.

Dio Kavalieratos, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care.


Linda A. King, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She participates in the UPMC Palliative Care Program on the inpatient consultation service and in an outpatient clinic. Dr. King graduated from Northwestern University Medical School in 1995, completed a primary care medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1998, and then completed a fellowship in palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital.


Colleen Kosky joins the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics and UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute as an administrative assistant supporting the overall mission to improve patient quality of life. She earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communication from the University of Pittsburgh and has several years of administrative and communications experience in non-profit and academic settings.


Alicia (Ali) Kollar, RN, BSN, CRNP, is a Nurse Practitioner for the Supportive and Palliative Care program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Her primary role is to evaluate and support patients in the areas of pain and symptom management, goals of care, and hospice evaluations. Ali earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and completed her Master of Science in Nursing degree from Duquesne University in 2016. Her work prior to joining the palliative care team was as a registered nurse in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Czarina Kulick, MSW, LCSW, is a clinical crisis coordinator with the Medical Ethics and Supportive Care Services of UPMC Shadyside. She received a Master of Social Work degree at Smith College, School for Social Work in Northampton, MA. She is a certified oncology social worker with over 15 years experience in program development, acute care, and HIV-AIDS in both international and domestic settings. Since 2008, she has had a present Appointment with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. She serves as part of a 10 member HIV Procurement Panel Member that reviews grants from HIV/AIDS and AIDS related services providers in Southwestern PA for Ryan White Funding.

In her role at UPMC Shadyside, she provides counseling for palliative and hospice care patients, while also working on creating new initiatives to better support patients and their families by focusing on memory making and legacy building activities. Czarina also works with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System as a Senior Social Worker specializing with aging Veterans.


Janet Leahy, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner for the Palliative Care Service at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. Her primary role is to evaluate hospitalized patients for pain and symptom management and for clarification of goals. Ms. Leahy earned a diploma in nursing from St. Francis School of Nursing and a bachelor's degree in nursing from Waynesburg University. She is board-certified as an acute care nurse practitioner with a master's degree in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh. Her background includes medical-surgical intensive care as well as home infusion of medications.


Jessica Merlin, MD, MBA, is a Visiting Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Merlin's research focuses on chronic pain in people living with HIV (PLWH), and more generally, individuals with comorbid mental illness and addiction. She currently holds a K23 career development award from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and pilot test a behavioral intervention for chronic pain in PLWH, during which she is pursuing a PhD in health behavior (anticipated graduation 12/2017). She is the PI of the first large-scale national study of chronic pain epidemiology in PLWH, and also leads projects relating to roles of pain sensitivity and inflammation in chronic pain pathogenesis among PLWH and management approaches to concerning behaviors that arise among individuals on long-term opioid therapy.

Dr. Merlin's clinical interest is in chronic pain in people living with HIV (PLWH) and other medically and psychiatrically complex patient populations. While on faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) from 2011 to 2017, she developed and ran the HIV Pain/Palliative Care clinic, which was embedded in UAB's HIV Patient Centered Medical Home. This multidisciplinary clinic included a nurse practitioner, nurse, social worker, physical therapist, and pharmacist, and a total of 24 palliative care fellows in chronic pain care during her tenure. At Pitt, she leads the pain clinic at the Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment (PACT) started by Dr. Bob Arnold.

Dr. Merlin also attends for one month per year on the inpatient general medicine service.

Scott Miller, MD, MA, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. He serves as the medical director of the Center for Compassionate Care, part of the Family Hospice Program, and has more than 15 years of experience in caring for hospice patients. He is also a practicing internist and provides teaching rounds and inpatient hospitalist care for the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Miller is board-certified in internal medicine and in hospice and palliative care and earned a master's degree in clinical ethics from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the medical editor of the Bulletin, the monthly journal of the Allegheny County Medical Society, and in that capacity writes a quarterly column on issues related to the practice of medicine and the delivery of health care.


Lisa Podgurski, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics and the University of Pittsburgh. Her clinical responsibilities include inpatient consult service at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC and UPMC Presbyterian-Shadyside, as well as staffing palliative care outpatient clinics at Magee. She is the medical director of the Palliative Care Service at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Lisa completed her undergraduate studies in Bio-Psych and Anthropology at Carnegie Mellon University; medical school training at Harvard Medical School and Internal Medicine Residency training at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian program. She recently earned a Masters in Medical Education from the University of Pittsburgh.

Lisa has a particular clinical interest in non-malignant palliative care (heart failure, transplant support, supportive neurology, etc).


Eva B. Reitschuler-Cross, MD, graduated from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, in 2004 and completed her residency training in Internal Medicine at Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA in 2010. She then served as a chief resident at Mount Auburn Hospital and completed a fellowship in medical education. After completing a fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011, she joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh in August 2012.

Dr. Reitschuler-Cross currently serves as an attending physician on the inpatient consultation service and has an outpatient clinic at the Hillman Cancer Center. She has a passion for medical education and will be serving as the subspecialty education coordinator for the GME Residency Program.


Melanie Robbins-Ong, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Section of Palliative and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Rebecca Sands, DO, graduated from medical school at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. She then completed her training in Internal Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where she also served as Chief Medical Resident. She completed her Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellowship at Harvard University in 2011 training at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. After her training she practiced for three years in community and inpatient hospice as well as serving as the hospice coordinator for the Harvard Palliative Medicine fellows.

She serves as an attending physician on the inpatient Palliative Care consultation service and staffs an outpatient clinic at Hillman Cancer Center. Her academic responsibilities include assisting with the operations of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellowship program.


Jane Schell MD, graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and trained in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. She completed dual fellowships in Nephrology and Hospice & Palliative Medicine at Duke University in 2012. She also earned a Masters in Health Science in 2011 and completed a qualitative study examining communication between nephrologists and elderly patients with kidney disease. She joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics and Renal-Electrolyte Division at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012 as an Assistant Professor of Medicine.

She serves as an attending physician on the inpatient consultation service for Palliative Medicine and Nephrology. She also attends a nephrology clinic which addresses palliative care issues for nephrology patients. Dr. Schell’s academic and educational interests focus on communication within the doctor-patient relationship.


Yael Schenker, MD, MAS, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Section of Palliative and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Schenker received her AB magna cum laude from Harvard University. She completed medical school, residency and fellowship training at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was also awarded a masters degree in clinical research.

Dr. Schenker joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. Her research focuses on surrogate decision making, the integration and marketing of palliative care services for patients with serious illness, and doctor-patient communication across linguistic and cultural barriers. She is also clinically active in palliative care and primary care.


Courtlyn Schmalzried, PA-C, is a Physician Assistant for the UPMC Supportive and Palliative Care consult team at the UPMC Presbyterian campus. Her role is to evaluate patients on the palliative care consult service in the areas of pain and symptom management and hospice eligibility as well as to help facilitate conversations surrounding goals of care. She enjoys working as a member of this team and supporting those with serious illness.

Courtlyn earned a BS in Neuroscience from The University of Pittsburgh in 2010 and completed her Masters of Physician Assistant Studies at Saint Francis University in 2012. Prior to joining the Palliative Care team she worked in a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital. She lives in the South Hills of Pittsburgh with her husband and dog. She enjoys swimming and spending time with friends and family.


Felicia Scrivens is the Administrative Coordinator for Medical Ethics and Supportive Care Services of UPMC Shadyside.


Doris Shields, MSW, LCSW, BCD, ACM, is a clinical crisis coordinator with the Medical Ethics and Supportive Care Services of UPMC Shadyside. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh – School of Social Work in 1993 with a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Prior to her role in Medical Ethics, she was the social work supervisor at UPMC Shadyside. Her inpatient clinical responsibilities include clinical crisis intervention; coordination and mediation of family meetings with patients, their families and the multidisciplinary team; close monitoring of complex family issues; and supportive care.


Lori Spahr joined the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics as an administrative assistant. She earned an associate's degree in information processing from the Monroeville School of Business and has over 17 years of administrative experience. She recently worked for West Penn Allegheny Health System as an executive assistant in the finance area.


Brenda Sperski is the Administrative Coordinator for the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics. She provides administrative support and oversight of both clinical and academic activities for the Section. Brenda earned an Associates Degree in Executive Secretarial Sciences and then obtained a diploma in Medical Transcription to expand her career capabilities. Brenda has worked in various secretarial capacities throughout her career. She has expanded her role during the seven years of experience with palliative care services at the University of Pittsburgh.


Laura Tycon, CRNP, is a Nurse Practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian. She staffs an outpatient palliative care clinic for patients with advanced cardiopulmonary disease. In this role, she offers patients support, symptom management and early advanced care planning sessions. Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Case Western Reserve University and her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania where she minored in Palliative Care.

Before earning her degree, Laura worked on a Heart Failure/LVAD nursing floor where she was introduced to the management of patients with chronic serious illness. She has a special interest in patients who are pre-lung/heart transplant and has been researching models on how to best integrate palliative care into nonmalignant disease processes such as Heart Failure, Cystic Fibrosis, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Pulmonary Hypertension. Ms. Tycon presented at AAHPM/HPNA Annual Assembly in 2017 about the transition to practice for new Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.

Andrew Thurston, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his medical school training at the Baylor College of Medicine, and his residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He subsequently completed a Geriatrics Fellowship and a Palliative Medicine Fellowship at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

His clinical activities include supportive and palliative medicine inpatient consult service at UPMC Mercy Hospital.

Current areas of interest include the application of palliative principles to geriatric syndromes and disease, and the incorporation of literature and civic reflection in medicine.


Richard L. Weinberg, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine, Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics. He graduated from the University of Michigan and completed residency at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

He practiced general internal medicine at Penn Group/HealthAmerica in Pittsburgh and served as the head of internal medicine. He was then Chief, General Internal Medicine at Western Pennsylvania Hospital. In 2005, He moved to Fairfax, Virginia to work full time in hospice and palliative care. He served as faculty for the National Institute of Health-Capital Caring Palliative Medicine fellowship.

Dr. Weinberg currently provides supportive and palliative care consultations at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside and Magee Womens hospitals. He works with the UPMC