The role of a nurse practitioner (NP) offers various types of opportunities and experiences. While many NPs work from doctor’s offices or hospital floors, others focus on more specialized areas. One of these is caring for terminally ill and end-of-life patients as they navigate their palliative journey.
As with so many careers in medicine, being a palliative care NP comes with a range of challenges, demands, and responsibilities. Nevertheless, it can also be a valuable experience in empowering patients and families as they face an emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically significant part of their lives.
Let’s take a closer look at the role of nurse practitioners in palliative care.
Care Planning and Symptom Management
One of the most impactful ways NPs can empower patients and their families is by helping them develop care plans. The last thing many people navigating palliative care want is to have arrangements that affect their lives just dictated to them. Rather, NPs, with their empathetic skill sets and in-depth medical knowledge, can act as expert guides. They provide patients and families with practical advice that both serves medical and emotional needs.
Care planning, by its nature, has to be a meticulous process. After all, terminal illness treatment can be quite complex. NPs can start by making a thorough assessment of the patient’s current health condition. This considers how severe the symptoms of specific illnesses are, but also elements that affect their quality of life, such as range of motion, mobility, and general comfort. NPs can also then discuss what the patient’s palliative journey goals and concerns are.
This is where an NP’s professional and compassionate abilities can be particularly effective. They’ll need to find ways for the medical and personal needs of the patients — and in some instances, the families involved — to meet. If there are problems, such as the side effects of some medications clashing with patients’ quality of life requirements, they discuss the options with the patient. Being transparent about the consequences, challenges, and benefits of different care paths is essential for patients to make informed decisions.
From here, NPs can create a formal document of care and symptom management that is shared with other relevant care staff and specialist medical providers. Importantly, NPs can revisit the plan periodically with patients as their symptoms and preferences develop during their care. This ensures that there’s always a medically robust yet patient-centric approach to delivering services.
Maintaining Mental Wellness
Palliative care is an emotionally and psychologically challenging experience. It’s also important to recognize that there is a growing national mental health crisis. A combination of factors contributes to difficulties here, from the escalating price of psychological health care to the sense of stigma surrounding mental wellness. This may further exacerbate the intense mental and physical impact of the palliative journey. As a result, NPs’ attention and skills are not just directed toward managing patients’ physical symptoms, but also tending to their mental wellness needs.
This can begin with something as simple as regularly checking in with patients about their emotions, thoughts, and concerns. The empathy and compassion NPs bring to their roles can be vital in establishing meaningful connections and trust bonds that encourage patients to share their feelings. In some cases, NPs might act as a bridge between patients and the most relevant resources, such as therapists specializing in terminal illness care. However, with additional training, NPs can also offer therapeutic activities such as guided meditation.
That said, it’s equally important to recognize that NPs’ own mental states can impact their patients. There’s no denying that providing palliative care can be emotionally and psychologically turbulent at times, particularly given the empathetic bonds they forge with patients. If NPs’ mental wellness begins to suffer, this is not only detrimental to their own quality of life but may also impact the quality of the care they provide. It is, therefore, a key part of an NP’s responsibility to take steps to safeguard their wellness. This could include adopting self-care routines and perhaps regularly speaking to therapists about their experiences and feelings.
Streamlining Care Processes
Being able to provide patients with the most thorough and compassionate attention is an important part of being an NP in palliative care. Unfortunately, this can be quite difficult when there are various other tasks to attend to. As a result, one of the ways NPs are most effective is in establishing the most efficient approaches to the tasks that surround the palliative journey.
This may involve regular assessments of medical and administrative practices. Continuously evaluating and improving processes has a variety of benefits. It helps to highlight where there may be unnecessarily repetitive or menial actions that result in inefficiencies. It can also reveal where new technology and automated software tools might offer opportunities to streamline workflows. Not to mention that this type of frequent evaluation is a great way to ensure that NPs are both continuing to meet patients’ needs while maintaining regulatory compliance.
It’s not just NPs themselves that are key to streamlining care processes. Care collaborators, patients, and families can provide useful insights here. Each of these parties has different perspectives on the services provided and what may be influencing bottlenecks or disruptions. NPs lead the charge of carefully gathering and assessing data from these individuals and reviewing what they can adjust accordingly. In essence, this is another way in which NPs facilitate care collaborations that positively impact patients’ quality of life during the palliative journey.
The role of NPs in palliative care involves various medical and administrative duties. However, each of these components, alongside intense empathy and compassion, is geared toward ensuring the most patient-centric approach to care. Throughout each step of making care plans, streamlining processes, and supporting mental wellness, there’s a common thread of striving to offer guidance, comfort, and expertise for this difficult part of life. It’s not an easy career path, but with careful consideration and a strong sense of emotional intelligence, it can certainly be a rewarding one.
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Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, activism-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.