Rural Nursing and Palliative Care

Posted on November 13, 2012 by

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This “Editor’s Pick” article describes an analysis of two studies that examine nursing palliative care in rural settings.  The authors (Barbara Pesut, PhD, RN; Barbara McLeod, MSN, BSN, RN; Rachelle Hole, PhD, MSW; Miranda Dalhuisen, BSN, RN) explain how the findings of these studies inform nursing practice in palliative care, and the ways in which the rural context shapes nursing practice. Their analysis provides insight into the ways in which nursing palliative care improves quality of life.  Dr. Pesut described their project as follows:

This article was birthed out of the Initiative for a Palliative Approach in Nursing: Education and Leadership, more commonly known as iPANEL.

“Research for nurses by nurses” is the motto for iPANEL.  A population aging with multiple chronic health conditions provides some important challenges for nurses, challenges that require both evidence and leadership. Research conducted by members of this team have indicated that a failure to identify and support those who are dying may have adverse consequences including poor symptom management, lack of advance

Barbara McLeod (L) and Barbara Pesut (R)

care planning and failure to attend to important psychosocial and spiritual issues. These issues are particularly relevant for nurses working in non specialized palliative settings such as acute medical units, residential care and home health.

iPANEL is a unique team, funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, of researchers, clinicians, administrators and policy makers whose goal it is to integrate a palliative approach into the care of those living with life limiting chronic illness.  A palliative approach takes the supportive principles of palliative care and applies them in an upstream approach, recognizing that although there is a role for specialized palliative care, a palliative approach can be used by all nurses in all contexts to improve the care of the dying. A palliative approach begins by recognizing that a person with an advancing chronic illness may indeed be on a dying trajectory and then having sensitive and ongoing conversations around the goals of care.

This particular project arose out of my (Barb Pesut’s) interest in rural palliative care. Having done extensive ethnographic work examining palliative care in rural areas I was struck by how the rural context influenced

Rachelle Hole (L), Miranda Dalhuisen (R)

nursing work at end of life. I observed how policies and programs generated in urban areas had unintended consequences for nurses. For example, nurses in rural areas work outside of hours and scopes of practice to ensure that their neighbours and friends are well cared for. And yet, this may put them in difficult situations if they are not supported by administrators, if they feel less than competent in the care they are being asked to provide, or if the burden of care becomes too great. In the context of my research I heard many nurses talk about wanting more of the benefits of specialized palliative teams. And yet, I also observed a high degree of expertise and commitment in these nurses as they cared for palliative individuals. It made me wonder about the concept of specialty practice, and where it served nursing well…and not so well. Thus, rural nursing work became an important context in which to look at a palliative approach which seeks to apply the principles of palliative care within generalist contexts – the rural context became an important “living laboratory”. It also became an opportunity to deepen understandings of what rural family caregivers need most from nurses.

Barb Pesut and Barbara McLeod are academic/practice partners leading iPANEL on how to better understand how to educate nurses for a palliative approach. Rachelle Hole is a colleague from social work who brought her expertise in qualitative analysis and social systems to help us think outside of our ‘nursing lens’ as we analyzed the data. Miranda Dalhuisen is a palliative nurse and research coordinator – those invaluable partners who make our programs of research doable.

Visit the ANS web site today to download a free copy of this very informative and interesting article!

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