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College of Nursing equips students with palliative care training | MUSC

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. While you may be familiar with hospice care, palliative care is a lesser-known term outside of the medical field. But with the help of Kathleen Lindell, Ph.D., RN, Mary Swain Endowed Chair in Palliative Care Health, and Carrie Cormack, DNP, senior faculty member in palliative care education, it’s now a regular part of the curriculum at MUSC College of Nursing.

To explain palliative care, Lindell refers to the World Health Organization’s definition, which she describes as care that “improves the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing challenges associated with a life-threatening illness, whether physical, psychological or… social or spiritual.” Though often associated with hospice care, Lindell is quick to point out that the two are different.

“Palliative care is an extra layer of support to help patients with a serious illness throughout their lives,” she explained. “Hospice is ideally provided within the last six months of life and is comfort-focused. Palliative care can be provided alongside curative care, for example while patients are undergoing chemotherapy, being evaluated for a transplant, or undergoing dialysis, to name a few. When patients receive hospice, the emphasis is on comfort care, not curative care.”

Two nursing students pose with a child in the palliative care setting.
Luke hugs two palliative care students. All College of Nursing students receive comprehensive training in palliative care. Photo provided

Linda S. Weglicki, Ph.D., RN, Dean of the College of Nursing (CON) at MUSC, Cormack and Lindell have created an environment where all graduate and undergraduate students can pursue palliative care education within the framework of End-of-Life Nursing Education received curriculum of the consortium (ELNEC). These ELNEC online modules provide palliative care certification to all CON students. This certification, combined with embedded clinical experiences and projects, helps these students care more effectively for patients with life-threatening illnesses.

“What ultimately happens is that patients with serious illnesses receive better care. They improve the quality of life for people with serious illnesses and their families,” said Lindell.

Karoline Fossell knows this firsthand. As part of their clinical rotations, CON students recently worked with their son, Luke Fossell, a young patient at Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. Luke is waiting for a heart transplant. While in hospital for the past four months, he has been able to engage in growth and development activities with some third-year students. Lindell said the students were able to experience palliative care in action with the Fossells while Luke awaits his new heart.

“In such situations, patients and families are afraid. So palliative care is that extra layer of support or that extra layer of attention to address their fears,” Lindell explained.

Karoline Fossell appreciates what MUSC’s palliative care team can offer families. “Our lives had been turned upside down, but palliative care at MUSC made sure that not only was Luke cared for, but we as his parents were too,” she said. “The members of MUSC’s palliative care team have worked alongside everyone involved in Luke’s care and really helped ensure that every aspect of his care is well coordinated.”

In honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, on November 10th and 11th, MUSC College of Nursing will host Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., RN, internationally recognized palliative care expert and ELNEC Principal Investigator, to the major rounds of nursing on November 10th The College will also host a Palliative Care showcase showcasing current research and projects from the MUSC faculty and nursing team. The following day, Ferrell will host Nursing Grand Rounds focused on the future of palliative care.

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