Dr. Barfield came from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where his research and practice focused on improving immune therapies for childhood cancer (including bone marrow transplantation and antibody therapy), and understanding the moral aspects of decision-making in medical research involving children. At Duke he has turned much of his effort towards bridging activities in theology and medicine. On the medical side of campus he continues to practice as a pediatric oncologist, and he directs the Pediatric Quality of Life/Palliative Care program, a program that combines medical care, education, and research to benefit children with complex, chronic, or potentially life-limiting disease. In the Divinity School he develops courses and programs that address topics at the intersection of theology, medicine, and culture. He also teaches courses in Christian philosophy.
While he continues to publish research papers in oncology and palliative care, much of his current writing focuses on the impact of literature on philosophical thought, and the ways that literature and narrative open up philosophically engaging dimensions of human experience, not least the experiences of illness and suffering. He has over ninety publications in medicine, philosophy, and poetry. His books include The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy (Cambridge University Press), a book-length collection of poetry called Life in the Blind Spot, and a novel called The Book of Colors.