The main goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of the life for both the patient and the family. It focuses primarily on diagnosing and treating patients with life-threatening illnesses and helping them and their families make medically important decisions. Hence, a palliative care nurse needs to be well-versed in symptom management and adept at providing psychosocial support.

Palliative care, administered to patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses, ultimately aims to improve the quality of life – not only for the patient, but also for the family. By focusing on anticipating, diagnosing and treating the patients, palliative care also helps patients and their family in making medically important decisions.

At the heart of this service is a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and social workers, whose primary role is to help patients and their families understand the nature of the illness and deal with the prognosis. Nurses, however, continue to be the backbone of this team, as they are usually the ones who interact with the patients and their families the most.

Here we will look at some of the traits that a palliative nurse possesses.

1. Sound medical knowledge

Palliative nurses need to not only carefully evaluate the symptoms of patients, but also be able to make sound decisions. In fact, being at the frontline of palliative care meant that one must accurately assess the patient’s symptoms.

Additionally, these nurses cannot afford to make the wrong assessment”. Therefore, having sound medical knowledge is imperative for a palliative nurse.

2. Able to work independently

Even though a patient is usually attended to by a team, very often, the nurse ends up working alone. In fact, the nurses are usually required to work independently. This is because they are usually the ones doing the house calls. It can also be quite a frightening episode to be out there working alone, especially for new nurses.

3. Strong emotional stability

Nursing requires compassion. In palliative care, the emotional burdens that can be placed onto a nurse are very real.

The long-term relationship fostered between the patient and the nurse very often translates into a very close connection, which can become “a heavy responsibility”. Often, nurses may also experience anticipatory grief due to the nature of the job.

As such, it can be difficult to manage the professional demands of the profession. It is therefore important that palliative nurses learn how to remain emotionally detached in order to survive the job.

4. Belief in the calling

A view resonated by many palliative care nurses is that the job allows them to do something more meaningful. Nurse Amy Lim, a palliative nurse working in Singapore, says that “I might not be able to cure them (the patients), but that doesn’t mean I can’t help them heal.”

Palliative work can be very demanding. A belief in the calling to help patients in their last days may be what makes the job valuable to these nurses, beyond the demands and stresses of the profession. MIMS

Read more:
The rising demand for palliative care services in Malaysia
Greater expertise needed in palliative care
The role of pharmacists in palliative care