Vachon named director of Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine

Author: Marissa Gebhard

Dominic Vachon

Dominic Vachon has been named director of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame, beginning Jan, 1. The center trains aspiring and practicing physicians in the human element of patient care.

The center will primarily focus on training undergraduate students, who are interested in pursuing careers in the health professions, in compassionate care before they enter graduate school. The center also will network with other national and local health care organizations, conduct research in caring science, and provide continuing education opportunities to practicing physicians, nurses and other helping professionals supporting caring practice in helping professions.

Vachon will be teaching Notre Dame courses in compassionate care and caring science and will facilitate experiences for students preparing to enter medical school and other allied health professions. The experiences will prepare students to become compassionate physicians by teaching them to communicate with patients in a thoughtful, sensitive manner for successful doctor-patient relationships, and will provide them with the techniques for skillful, humane patient evaluation and management.

The center is named after the late Ruth M. Hillebrand, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan who specialized in treating patients with eating disorders. Hillebrand had an intimate knowledge of how compassion on the part of the physician could impact a patient’s treatment and recovery. Her motivation to endow the center came from her own experience with a physician, whom she met once, who delivered her terminal diagnosis in a brief, perfunctory, late-night phone call and then hung up.

Hillebrand passed away in 1994 from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Her brother, Joseph Hillebrand, helped to establish training centers at Notre Dame and the University of Toledo Medical School in her name with the purpose of training future physicians and other helping professionals to communicate more compassionately with their patients.

For the last 10 years, Vachon has been director of Behavioral Medicine and Caring Science Training at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center’s Family Medicine Residency Program. He has been involved in the training of physician residents in patient-physician communication and professionalism. He also is a practicing psychologist specializing in neurofeedback therapy.

Vachon graduated from Notre Dame in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy. In 1985, he earned a master of divinity from Notre Dame, and in 1993, he earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. His research has focused on the relationship between empathy and burnout, factors in maintaining caring in difficult work, the psychology of helping interactions, physician-patient dynamics, and the role of spirituality in helping others. He provides workshops nationally in the area of maintaining balanced caring in the helping professions.

Contact: Dominic Vachon, 574-631-9536,