A New Approach In End-of-Life Care

Aug 5, 2014

This week, the University of Virginia’s nursing school will begin an ambitious educational effort -- training more than four dozen nurses in how to talk about death with patients and their families and how to provide comfortable care to people who are dying. 

Credit Associated Press

You might expect nurses to be experts on the end of life, but UVA’s Associate Dean of Nursing Ken White, says that’s not always the case. He’s been studying what nurses know for more than a decade.

“I started with oncology nurses, and our line of research was: Tell us what the biggest gaps are in your education, in dealing with your patients. The number one was how to talk to patients and families about death and dying.”

And, he says, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Back in the day when a lot of our mid-career and older nurses went to nursing school, this was not taught. We were basically told if they ask us questions that they should ask their physicians.”

Today, he says, nurses are learning more about end-of-life care, and those attending a conference in Charlottesville this weekend are expected to pass the information along when they return to their communities. They’ll explore the best pain medications and other ways to relieve discomfort.

“I myself like to try alternative and complementary therapies like massage, like music, art therapy, pet therapy.” 

The conference will include discussions of ethical and spiritual concerns and will focus on how different cultures think about death.