Learning to Learn

This is one in a series of stories about The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s landmark achievements, which continue to inspire us as we address future challenges.

Like many Americans, several of our leaders had personal experience with aging and dying family members. Here’s what we knew from that experience: Our loved ones often underwent costly, ineffective and ultimately painful treatments right up until they drew their last breath—regardless of their last wishes. It was as if the health care community believed that transparently hopeless cases could somehow be pulled from the brink.

We resolved to do something to change the way the gravely ill lived out their last days.

Our earliest and most noteworthy accomplishment was the largest clinical investigation on dying ever conducted in the United States. Its findings brought about a sea change in the way Americans and the medical community deal with death.

Our initial efforts to apply the results of that research—specifically, to improve communication between physicians, patients, and their families—met with failure.

We learned from our failure, and we persisted. By 2003, the Foundation had invested almost $150 million to improve care at the end of life. This time, success was clearly evident. Today, our dogged pursuit of more humane care at the end of life is regarded as one of our most significant efforts.

Learn more about our work in death and dying.