The Hosparus Health Physician Spotlight: Salli Elizabeth Whisman, MD


FAMILY: Married to Lyman Whisman with four adult kids (Clare McCabe, Caitlin Gallaher, Emma Whisman, Avery Whisman) age 19 to 36.

HOBBIES: Horses – training my kids to ride Eventers. DIY home remodeling – tiling, carpentry, gardening, reading.

EDUCATION: Graduate of TLS in Lexington, Kentucky then Henry Clay High School 1979. Attended two years at Centre, but ultimately graduated from the University of Kentucky (UK) with degree in Human Studies. Then UK College of Medicine 1991-1995. Family Practice Residency at MAHEC in Asheville, NC 1995-1998.

Medical News: Why did you chose this specialty?

Salli Whisman: In undergrad, I was not content with going after a major in biology or chemistry which is the most common pathway toward medical school. My advisor and I crafted an independent major that would look at the “whole human organism” while meeting my medical school requirements. I focused on biology, psychiatry, sociology and philosophy to prepare for medical school.

I didn’t know it, but I was already thinking like a hospice and palliative care physician. One of my favorite undergraduate classes was titled: “Death, dying and quality of life”. Family medicine was a natural fit for this approach to medicine, and after residency, I joined a private practice that staffed Mountain Area Hospice in Asheville, North Carolina. Within four years, I had moved into full-time hospice and palliative practice.

MN: Is it different than you expected?

SW: The field of Hospice and Palliative Medicine is and has been constantly changing and growing. I love what I do, and rarely find a moment to feel bored or like I’m not using all those skills I sought out from undergrad on through all my education.

MN: What is the biggest misconception in your field?

SW: That Hospice and Palliative Medicine (HPM) is ALL about dying. Mainly we are about living, living absolutely as well as possible given the circumstances that rarely can be changed. Many feel that HPM must be depressing, but I feel it is such a privilege to be a part of this ultimate human struggle, coping with our own mortality or the mortality of those we love.

AND, I use my full medical training, and more, every day. In home-based hospice care, you rarely have the advantage of laboratory or radiologic data to work through a differential diagnosis. Old-fashioned hands on physical examination skills become key to problem-solving in that setting.

MN: How do you go the extra mile?

SW: Bluegrass Care Navigators (BCN) and members of our BCN Department of Medicine have worked hard to address two issues across our community and state, and I have had an influential role in both:

1) Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST) is now a legal option for Advance Directives in KY, and I continue to work with the MOST Coalition and KAHPC to implement MOST in Kentucky.

2) BCN is working tirelessly to be good stewards of opioid management for our patient population. As far back as 2014 with our Pain Task Force initiative, we have been striving to keep our patients, our communities and our staff safe by examining and utilizing best practice in opioid prescribing.



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