Preparing Student Nurses for Palliative Care: 7 Tips for Clinical Placement

Palliative care is a term used to describe the level of hospital care given to someone with an active, progressive, advanced disease. Patients in palliative care have little to no chance of a cure and are expected to die quite soon. Palliative care is focused not on treating or curing a patient, but on providing comfort through relieving symptoms, thereby improving quality of life until the person’s eventual death.

It’s a confronting prospect to be faced with. To stare mortality in the face every day, watching the fall out of the death of a loved one and comforting the families and friends of the deceased. Anyone would find it difficult and yet it is the job of many nurses worldwide to deal with palliative care patients every day. While no campus or online FNP programs can truly prepare anyone for this reality, education bodies have been using clinical placement for years to introduce prospective healthcare professionals to the conditions they will face. Here are 7 tips for nursing students to prepare for palliative care work during their placement.

1. Understand What You’re Going Into

Medicine is an intense, and often personally involving career. To be a nurse you’re going to test the limits of your empathy and your sensitivity. While tenured nurses have seen people die time and time again, and been there for patients during their final moments, everyone starts somewhere. It’s important to remember that when you’re going into palliative care or hospice care, you’re going to be dealing with people who are dying, and you will likely witness people die while on placement.

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It may be worth establishing contact with a therapist or university counselor so that you can access that support during your placement. Also be sure to keep close with the other students in your placement, and lean on each other for support during difficult times.

2. Although Intense, Palliative Care Isn’t Bad

Most students will experience anxiety before their placement, and although the concept of being faced with death isn’t fun for anyone, research shows that palliative care placements by and large prove to be a positive experience for nursing students.

According to a Hammond Care study of eleven allied health students going through palliative care placement, despite most students feeling anxious about their placements, the experience proved to be a positive one. The “perception and understanding of palliative care” was said to be “positively influenced” by the experiences of the placement, and the variety of learning opportunities was well received.

So if you’re feeling anxious remember that other students have been through what you’re going through, and in the end, the general experience was a positive one.

3. Take Advantage of the Welcome

Most nursing placement facilities will send their placement participants some form of welcome pack. This can include mentor details and placement rotas. You can use this to get ahead a little. Take the time to contact your mentors ahead of time, introduce yourself, and address any concerns you may have about your time during placement.

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4. Don’t be Ashamed to Seek Help

Placement can be overwhelming for nursing students. There is a very real difference between study and practice. Contrary to belief, study doesn’t always prepare people for the real thing and if you find that you’re overwhelmed by the things happening on your placement, it’s okay to ask for help and support. Most facilities that offer placements are prepared for this, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask your mentor to talk things out with you or point you in the direction of someone who can.

5. Grab Every Opportunity

Placement is hard, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Placement provides a safe, protected environment for you to get a snapshot into your future career. Make sure that you’re open to opportunity, that you’re grasping every chance to learn something new, and that you’re taking full advantage of the benefits of a placement.

Placement is one of those things where you get out of it what you put in. Dedication to your placement not only leaves a good impression on potential future employers but will ensure that your placement is a fulfilling experience for you.

6. Communicate

Remember, you’re still a student. Your placement is a time for you to dip your toe into the waters of a medical professional’s responsibility, not to oversee it entirely. That is the job of your supervising nurse.

You’ll create a better impression and make more of an impact if you ask questions. Don’t be afraid of not knowing something, you’re a student, you’re supposed to not know. The nurses you’ll be working with were likely in your shoes just a couple of years ago, they’re prepared to answer a million questions.

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7. Persist

We know that placement can be difficult. Especially in an emotionally intense setting like palliative care. However as intense and scary as dealing with the dying can be, it’s also incredibly rewarding. You’re there to make a person’s last moments as calm and as tranquil as possible. No one wants to die in pain, and your role as a nurse will be to make sure that at the very least, nobody dies alone. While this can be a confronting prospect, it also means that you’re part of a very select few who can do this. Remember why you want to be a nurse, learn, make mistakes, and persist. You’ll get there eventually.

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