While she was at Graceland Andrea “Andi” Barber ’06 Chatburn discovered that her understanding of death and dying was different than most. In Bob Mesle’s class Suffering and Meaning, discussions around death revealed her difference. As a girl, Chatburn lost six great-grandparents within a few years. She experienced the care and love given to her great-grandparents, and, because of the inclusion in these intimate beautiful deaths, she understood death as a natural part of life.
In Mesle’s class, she realized that most of her classmates had not been around very many people who were dying and that she was uniquely prepared for an emerging field in medicine; one that would merge her biology, theology and ethics classes. The same year that Chatburn was entering medical school (2006), Hospice and Palliative Medicine became an official board-certified medical specialty.
"The Suffering and Meaning class at Graceland resonated with the reality that all life involves suffering and that our purpose in life and in relationships is to create meaning out of suffering. Not that I’m thankful for suffering, but the class gave me a safe place to explore and a chance to create meaning and new understandings."
Another class at Graceland, Medical Ethics, helped to make the connections for her to go into the field. Her strong foundation and support from faculty was encouraging, even when she received criticism and judgment from some for going into an odd sector of medicine. Dying was a subject that the medical field and much of society would rather hush than delve into and recognize as a natural and even beautiful part of life.
Dr. Chatburn is a Regional Medical Director for Ethics at Providence St. Joseph Health. It is the third largest nonprofit health care organization in the country with 50 hospitals from Anchorage to West Texas. There are six professional ethicists in the theology and ethics department, and she is the regional ethicist covering nine hospitals across eastern Washington and western Montana. This position and field of medicine didn’t exist while Chatburn was studying what she loved at Graceland. During medical school at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (2010 Honor Graduate), she also got a master’s degree in bioethics, knowing she would need the ethics education for best practices in palliative care. Her instinct was right, even though she didn’t realize that the two would become a paired specialty.
“If I had been an undergrad biology major at any other school than Graceland, I probably wouldn’t have taken philosophy or religion classes,” commented Chatburn, “but they were something I was deeply interested in, and they absolutely fit with my career.”
The Graceland community gave her the grounding she needed to explore and discover her unique contribution. Chatburn discovered her strong voice in a place where she could be her most authentic self. “At Graceland, I received a sense of belonging and being a part of something bigger than myself. When we moved to Spokane, we connected with some Graceland alumni that we didn’t know previously, who are now some of our best friends. We had a common understanding of what it felt like to be a part of the Graceland community, and, as an ethicist, relationships are everything.”
Andi and John Chatburn ’03 live in Spokane, Washington, with their Bernese mountain dog, Fairbanks.