Darrell Owens is a nurse pioneer who has changed the face of palliative care in Washington state. He has been working to change patient care and the systems that allow for patient-centered care for more than 20 years, including developing and building the inpatient palliative care service and the outpatient primary palliative care program within the UW Medicine system.
The primary palliative care service he established is the only one of its kind in the country, providing personalized, in-home visits to individuals for whom traveling to see a health care provider is too burdensome. Owens has traveled to many families’ bedsides at or near the time of death in order to provide support, compassion and expertise.
The impact of Owens’ work has rippled beyond establishment of those two palliative care programs. He has given countless presentations and in-services to broaden and deepen the knowledge base of nurses, ARNPs, doctors, physical therapists, speech therapists, social workers, respiratory therapists and other specialists.
Owens began his nursing education in Atlanta at Emory University, where he earned his BSN. He also holds an MS in Health Services Administration from St. Mary’s College of California, and a Master of Science in Nursing (Palliative Care CNS) and post-master’s ARNP in Adult Health and Geriatrics from Seattle Pacific University. He earned his Doctor of Nursing Practice in Geriatrics and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and in 2015 was honored by the UAB Alumni Association with the Joanne Barnett Award for Compassionate Care.
Owens worked for hospice and home health programs and agencies in Northern California from 1992 to 2000, when he moved to Seattle to join Swedish Health Services as Director of End of Life Care Services and then Director of Providence Hospice of Seattle. In 2003 he joined UW Medicine at Harborview Medical Center as Attending Provider and Program Director of Palliative Medicine.
Over his 17 years with UW Medicine, Owens founded the Inpatient and Outpatient Palliative Care Services at Harborview Medical Center and Northwest Hospital. Owens currently practices full-time inpatient and outpatient primary, supportive and palliative care on the Northwest Campus, including having an embedded clinic model with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington.
He was the first nurse to start and lead a palliative care service in Washington state and is the only RN to start and direct two medical consult services in the UW Medicine system. He also served as a nurse consultant to help Valley, Swedish and Virginia Mason start their palliative care services. He has worked ceaselessly to partner with administrators to ensure that his work continues, even when system changes reconfigure the structure of palliative care teams.
In Washington state, he served two terms as a Commissioner for the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, including serving as Chair of the ARNP subcommittee. In 2017, he was reappointed as a Commissioner Pro-Tem, serving as a technical advisor and expert witness for issues related to opioid prescribing.
Owens is an international expert in palliative care, whose work includes teaching in both Vietnam and China. He has published over 20 articles and book chapters on various palliative care topics.
In 2011, Owens was selected as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner’s Nurse Practitioner of the Year for the State of Washington, and in 2012 was the first nurse practitioner to receive the Cambia Health Foundation’s Sojourn Award for Excellence in Clinical Leadership in Palliative Care.
Owens’ work seeks to shift the national statistics regarding treatment measures administered within days of death, number of days individuals receive hospice services, and the quality of care while living with serious illness. By laying the foundation for excellence in palliative care and end of life care in Washington state, Owens’ efforts have had far-reaching impacts on the families he serves as well as on those who will be served by future practitioners in the field of palliative care.