By Lorena Loci, ’17

I am extremely privileged to be a member of KILN. Through this organization, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to attend the yearly national conference on Hospice and Palliative Care! This was my first time visiting Arizona, and I loved and enjoyed every moment of my time there.

During my time at the conference, I attended lectures that focused on a broad range of topics which included:

  • providing quality care at the end of life,
  • goals of care and advanced directives,
  • conversations that guide serious illness
  • the essentials commingling of care and story,
  • narrative medicine,
  • scholarship in pain management and the current opioid crisis,
  • nurses leading change and transformative care,
  • intimacy at the end of life,
  • legislation in palliative care,
  • application of clinical knowledge to research, and last but not least,
  • a pharmacology course on the newest FDA approved drugs in 2016

All the lectures were phenomenal, but I was particularly intrigued by a leadership talk that highlighted the power and influence nurses possess to lead change and transform care, especially in the field of palliative care.

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I learned that someone who is a nursing leader does not necessarily mean one leads a group of people or manage someone’s workday, but a nurse who leads as a clinician and is at the patient’s bedside at a time when decent human values are being undermined and challenged. As highlighted in all of the nursing classes I have attended at Boston College, the primary role of a nurse is to relieve suffering and through the patient’s relationship; the nurse accompanies the patient on the illness journey. In hospice and palliative care specifically, nurses support patients struggling to confront living while facing death. During this lecture, the presenter touched upon the role of the nurse in relieving symptoms of illness, and in particular, how they address pain, as they know when pain is ignored it will lead to more suffering. Nurses have a moral imperative to advocate for pain relief, give voice to the pain, and reduce their patient’s suffering. Along with this theme, nurses define the paradigm of palliative care as their mantra to provide comfort to patients in what is arguably the most difficult time of their life.

They do not focus on curing the disease in a terminally ill patient but focus on improving their quality of life. During this lecture, the notion that communication is the essence of nursing was continuously emphasized. Nurses are the ones who facilitate the “goals of care” discussions, and through this communication, they help understand the patient’s story and share that story with the rest of the world. Through the use of effective communication skills, nurses clarify for the rest of the medical team the patient’s goals of care to better manage their circumstance. Moreover, nurses remain present and concerned with patient’s quality of life; they become companions in the patient’s journey and remain steadfast when there are no easy answers regarding their disease.

The conference was very powerful in leading the way for caring for patients suffering from chronic and terminal illness. Although the lectures provided different information regarding a particular topic in the hospice and palliative care field, they ultimately had one common theme: the palliative care field works with patients’ sense of perspective around their illness by conceptualizing it. Death happens to all of us. Thus, it is imperative to mitigate suffering and prolong quality of life when patients are at the end of their lifespan. This field offers nurses and providers the opportunity to both have an impact in transforming illness, and to be transformed by illness. Illness, disability, and death are normal parts of human life, and they should be noted as issues to work with, rather than pathological invaders to be combated.