College of Nursing equips students with palliative care training

November 09, 2022
Nursing wearing a mask hugs a boy who is hugging her back.
A College of Nursing student hugs patient Luke Fossell in the cardiac unit of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. Photo provided

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 help from Kathleen Lindell, Ph.D., R.N., the Mary Swain Endowed Chair in Palliative Care Health, and Carrie Cormack, DNP, lead faculty member in palliative care education, it’s now an integral part of the curriculum at the MUSC College of Nursing.

To explain palliative care, Lindell points to the World Health Organization’s definition, which describes it as care that “improves the quality of life of patients and that of their families who are facing challenges associated with life-threatening illness, whether physical, psychological, social or spiritual.” While it’s 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 who have a serious illness across the patient’s lifespan,” she explained. “Hospice is offered ideally within the last six months of life and is focused on comfort. Palliative care can be offered alongside curative care, for instance, while patients are undergoing chemotherapy, being evaluated for a transplant or receiving dialysis, to name a few. When patients receive hospice, the focus is on comfort care, not curative care.”

Two nursing students pose with a child in the palliative care area. 
Luke hugs two palliative nursing students. All College of Nursing students get extensive training in palliative care. Photo provided

Linda S. Weglicki, Ph.D., R.N., dean of MUSC’s College of Nursing (CON), Cormack and Lindell have created an environment where all of the graduate and undergraduate students receive palliative care education through the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) curriculum. These ELNEC online modules provide all CON students with palliative care certification. This certification combined with embedded clinical experiences and projects help these students to care for patients dealing with life-threatening illnesses more effectually. 

“Ultimately, what happens is that patients with serious illnesses get better care. You improve the quality of life for individuals with serious illnesses and their families,” said Lindell.

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

“In those situations, patients and families are scared. And so palliative care is this extra layer of support or this extra layer of attention to help to address their fears,” Lindell explained.

Karoline Fossell values what the MUSC palliative care team is able to offer to families. “Our lives had been turned upside down, but Palliative Care at MUSC ensured that not only was Luke taken care of, but that we, as his parents, were as well,” she said. “The palliative care team members at MUSC have collaborated with all of those involved in Luke’s care and have really helped to make sure that every aspect of his care is well coordinated.” 

In honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, the MUSC College of Nursing will be hosting Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., internationally renowned palliative care expert and ELNEC principal investigator, for Nursing Grand Rounds on Nov. 10 and 11. On Nov. 10, the college will also host a palliative care showcase, featuring the current research and projects of MUSC faculty and care team members. The following day, Ferrell will host Nursing Grand Rounds, focusing on the future of palliative care.

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