University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Michael W. Rabow, MD

Michael W. Rabow, MD

Professor of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, UCSF
Helen Diller Family Chair in Palliative Care, UCSF

Cancer Center Program Memberships

Cancer Control

Research Summary

Michael W. Rabow, MD, FAAHPM, the Helen Diller Family Chair in Palliative Care, is a Professor of Clinical Medicine and Urology and Associate Chief of Education & Mentoring in the Division of Palliative Medicine, Department of Medicine, at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Rabow attended UCSF for medical school and general internal medicine residency training.  He completed fellowships at UCSF in general medicine, as well as in medical education research and is board-certified in internal medicine and hospice & palliative care. For 25 years previously, Dr. Rabow was in the Division of General Medicine and continued an active primary care practice along with his work in palliative care.

Program Development

Dr. Rabow directs a leading outpatient palliative care program-- the Symptom Management Service-- at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.  One of the largest palliative care programs in a cancer center nationally, the Symptom Management Service currently provides outpatient palliative care co-management in more than 30 half-day clinics weekly across three campuses at UCSF. He was the founding director of the UCSF/Mount Zion Hospital and Bakar Hospital Palliative Care Consultation Services. 


Dr. Rabow is a national expert in outpatient palliative care research and service delivery. He has conducted both controlled and longitudinal trials of outpatient palliative care consultation, as well as multiple surveys of current outpatient palliative care consultation practices nationally. He is currently part of a PCORI study examining home-based palliative care. He lectures widely and has published over 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals in the areas of palliative care, spirituality, family caregiving, and end-of-life care education.


An expert in Community-Based Palliative Care, Dr. Rabow also serves as a consultant to medical centers nationally working to develop or expand their palliative care services, and as a consultant to numerous prominent professional or philanthropic organizations dedicated to expanding palliative care access and quality. Dr. Rabow served as the lead of the project advisory board for the “Improving Palliative Care in the Outpatient Setting” (IPAL-OP) initiative at the Center to Advance Palliative Care. He directed the outpatient palliative care service assessment team for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Dr. Rabow is on the advisory board to the Palliative Care Institute of the California State University at San Marcos, which provides online education and certification for members of the palliative care interdisciplinary team.

Dr. Rabow is one of the leads of the UCSF Palliative Care Leadership Center (PCLC) and a member of the curriculum development committee for the PCLC Initiative nationally. The PCLC Initiative has trained more than 1000 hospital- and community-based palliative care programs in the United States. Previously, Dr. Rabow helped direct the California Hospital Initiative in Palliative Services, the first program to support the development of hospital-based palliative care services in California. In addition, Dr. Rabow served as a technical advisor and member of the leadership team for the Archstone Foundation’s Hospital-Based Palliative Care Service Innovations project.


Dr. Rabow is the founding director of the Center for Education in Palliative Care at UCSF/Mount Zion, which also serves as the central hub for palliative care education across the UCSF enterprise. Dr. Rabow is an active member of the UCSF Academy of Medical Educators. He was Assistant Editor for the bimonthly section in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled “Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life.” This series now appears as a palliative care textbook, Care at the Close of Life. For 15 years, he served as the Director of the Center for the Study of the Healer’s Art at the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal in California. Dr. Rabow is the Associate Editor of the world’s best-selling annually-updated general medicine textbook, Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. Dr. Rabow is the executive producer of “The Caregivers” documentary film and accompanying family caregiver handbook.

Major Awards

In addition to numerous UCSF teaching awards and awards for research presentations at national meetings, in 2016, Dr. Rabow was selected as the winner of the AAHPM PDIA National Palliative Care Leadership Award. He is a past recipient of the Soros Project on Death in America award and the Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award.


Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, 1983-1987, B.A., summa cum laude (Anthropology)
Harvard University Extension School, Cambridge, MA, 1987-1988, No degree sought
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 1989-1993, M.D., (Medicine)
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 1993-1994, Primary Care Internal Medicine Internship
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 1994-1996, Primary Care Internal Medicine Residency
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 1996-1997, Clinician-Educator Fellowship in General Internal Medicine

Professional Experience

  • 1997-2003
    Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
  • 1998-2003
    Co-director, Behavioral Medicine Training, Division of General Internal Medicine, UCSF
  • 2003-2009
    Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, UCSF
  • 2004-present
    Founding Director, Symptom Management Service
  • 2006-present
    Founding Director, Center for the Study of the Healer's Art, Institute for the Study of Health and Illness
  • 2007-present
    Associate Director, Palliative Care Leadership Center
  • 2009-present
    Professor of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, UCSF
  • 2010-present
    Site Director, Palliative Care Fellowship Program, Department of Medicine

Honors & Awards

  • 1987
    Summa Cum Laude, Harvard University Department of Anthropology

  • 1987
    Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard University Chapter

  • 1993
    Alpha Omega Alpha, UCSF School of Medicine

  • 1999
    UCSF/Mount Zion Medical Residency Teaching Award

  • 2000
    Robert H. Crede Award for Excellence in Teaching, UCSF

  • 2002
    Project on Death in America Faculty Scholarship, Soros Foundation

  • 2002
    David E. Rogers Junior Faculty Education Award, Society of General Internal Medicine

  • 2004
    Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Outstanding Lecture Award, UCSF Class of 2006

  • 2004
    UCSF Academy of Medical Educators

  • 2004
    Best Research Poster, AAMC Western Regional GEA/GSA Annual Conference

  • 2005
    Society of General Internal Medicine Clinician-Educator of the Year Award, California

  • 2007
    Circle of Life Award, American Hospital Association, to the UCSF Palliative Care Service

  • 2008
    Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, Innovation in Education Award to the Healer’s Art

  • 2008
    Fellow, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

  • 2009
    American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Paper Award

  • 2010
    Essential Core Teaching Award for Outstanding Lecture from the UCSF Class of 2012

  • 2011
    Geriatrics Abstract Award, Society of General Internal Medicine

  • 2012
    Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award
  • 2017
    2017 AAHPM PDIA Palliative Medicine National Leadership Award

Selected Publications

  • Rabow MW, McPhee SJ. Beyond breaking bad news: Helping Patients Who Suffer. Western Journal of Medicine. 1999;171:260-263.
  • Rabow MW, Hardie GE, Fair JM, McPhee SJ. An evaluation of end-of-life care content in 50 textbooks from multiple specialties. JAMA. 2000;283:771-778.
  • Rabow MW. What cancer patients want to know: National strategies and individual needs. Western Journal of Medicine. 2000;173:31-32.
  • Rabow MW, Fair JM, Hardie GE, McPhee SJ. An evaluation of end-of-life care content in leading neurology textbooks. Neurology. 2000;55:893-894.
  • Rabow MW, McPhee SJ. Doctoring to heal: fostering well-being among physicians through personal reflection. Western Journal of Medicine. 2000;174;66-69.
  • Lo B, Ruston D, Kates LW, Arnold R, Cohen C, Faber-Langendoen K, Puchalski C, Pantilat SZ, Quill TR, Rabow MW, Schreiber S, Sulmasy DP, Tulsky J. Discussing religious and spiritual issues at the end of life: a practical guide for physicians. JAMA. 2002;287:749-754.
  • Rabow MW, Petersen JA, Schanche K. Volunteer patient advocacy: an interdisciplinary course on attending to patients at the end of life. J Palliat Med. 2002;5:754-755.
  • Rabow MW, Petersen JJ, Schanche K, Dibble SL, McPhee SJ. The Comprehensive Care Team: a description of a controlled trial of care at the beginning of the end of life. J Palliat Med. 2003;6:489-499.
  • Lo B, Kates LW, Ruston D, Arnold RM, Cohen CB, Puchalski CM, Pantilat SZ, Rabow MW, Schreiber S, Tulsky J. Responding to requests regarding prayer and religious ceremonies by patients near the end of life and their families. J Palliat Med. 2003;6:409-415.
  • Bookwalter TC, Rabow MW, McPhee SJ. Content on end-of-life care in major pharmacy textbooks. Am J Health-Syst Pharmacy. 2003;60:1246-50.
  • Rabow MW, Schanche K, Petersen JJ, Dibble SL, McPhee SJ. Patient perceptions of an outpatient palliative care intervention: "It had been on my mind before, but I did not know how to start talking about death." J Pain Symptom Mgmt. 2003;26:1010-1015.
  • Rabow, MW. Drawing on experience: physician artwork in a course on professional development. Med Educ. 2003;37:1040-1041.
  • Rabow MW, Dibble SL, Pantilat SZ, McPhee SJ. The Comprehensive Care Team: a controlled trial of outpatient palliative medicine consultation. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:83-91.
  • Rabow MW, Hauser JM, Adams J. Supporting family caregivers at the end of life: They don't know what they don't know. JAMA. 2004:291;483-491.
  • Rabow MW, Dibble SL. Ethnic differences in pain among outpatients with terminal and end-stage chronic illness. Pain Medicine. 2005;6:235-241.
  • Remen NR, Rabow MW. The Healer's Art: Professionalism, Service and Mission. Med Educ. 2005;39:1172.
  • Pantilat SZ, Rabow MW, Citko J, vonGunten CF, Auerbach AD, Ferris FD. Evaluating the California Hospital Initiative in Palliative Services (CHIPS). Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:227-230.
  • Homes SM, Rabow MW, Dibble SL. Screening the soul: communication regarding spiritual concerns among primary care physicians and seriously-ill patients at the beginning of the end of life. Amer J Hospice Palliat Med. 2006;23:25-33.