Palliative care nurse brings empathy, life experiences to help patients, families

March 07, 2024
Woman wearing blue hospital scrubs talks with a younger woman who is lying in a hospital bed.
Aminah Fraser-Rahim shares a laugh with Skylar Brown during a visit in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. Photos by Sarah Pack

This is part of MUSC's 2024 Women's History Month series. For more coverage, please see links at the bottom of this story.

In Aminah Fraser-Rahim’s world, practicing empathy and patience and being a clear communicator are important qualities that she uses daily as a pediatric palliative care nurse practitioner. For the past four years, she’s helped many young patients and has assisted families who are facing their children’s serious medical illnesses, some of whom have to come to terms with news that no family wants to hear. In most cases, it is the most difficult and vulnerable time of their lives. It’s no wonder that Fraser-Rahim and her specialty team at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital call their work an extraordinary honor.

Fraser-Rahim’s journey into nursing and eventually palliative care medicine took this Philadelphia-born, Lowcountry-raised woman on a path paved with daunting twists and turns that have given her a more meaningful perspective on the way she sees life. 

An educator turned nurse, her passion for health care was rooted as a child — her mom, Martha Fraser-Rahim, worked as a health specialist and contract nurse. She got her first glimpse of nursing watching her mother care for her sick grandmother. She was also influenced as a Burke High School student participating in the South Carolina AHEC Health Careers Program, a program supporting minorities exploring careers in the health professions. Those experiences planted seeds that would later bloom and set her on her path.

Years later, she returned to Charleston, completed her bachelor of science in nursing degree at MUSC and began working as a clinical nurse coordinator and nurse manager at a private pediatric clinic while earning her master’s degree and doctorate in nursing practice from MUSC in 2018.

Anxious to work and start a new chapter in her career, she applied for a nurse practitioner position at MUSC Health Ear, Nose and Throat Services. 

But mere minutes after receiving the job offer, she was confronted with life-changing news: a diagnosis of breast cancer that would cause a serious setback in her plans. Her doctors recommended an aggressive treatment plan that included chemotherapy, immunotherapy and multiple surgeries. She declined the ENT job in order to focus on her health.

Five people seated at a table talk with each other. 
Fraser-Rahim, middle, talks with her palliative care team members during morning rounds

“It was devastating news,” recalled Fraser-Rahim. “I had followed my path, returned to school, studied nursing for six straight years and was ready to work while remaining diligent to everything in my plan. This was supposed to be my time: work a good job and spend time with my daughter, Nia. Instead, life was put on hold for 16 months as I dealt with my cancer and recovery."

By mid-2020, Fraser-Rahim’s treatments and cancer recovery had progressed well and she did not want to wait any longer to start her career. She craved normalcy in her life again. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, she leaned in and landed an opportunity to work as a nurse practitioner in pediatric palliative care with MUSC Children’s Health. 

“Palliative providers have a great deal of resilience in the face of difficult loss and at that point of my nursing career, I wasn’t sure if I was ready,” she said, remembering a previous experience working with the palliative care team as a nursing student. But she marveled at the team’s camaraderie, empathetic interactions, sensitive body language and the attentive care provided to each and every patient and their family members. 

“In the blink of an eye, everything can change. I never knew what that meant until I was the one receiving unwelcome news. I was different now and I was open to trying something new.  

Fraser-Rahim joined a small pediatric palliative care team that consisted of physicians, a social worker, bereavement coordinator, volunteer coordinator and a second nurse practitioner, with plans for expansion. Today, she works with a 12-person team that includes a chaplain, physicians and multiple advanced practice providers who support pediatrics and the Advanced Fetal Care Clinic. 

She feels today’s team has the bandwidth to care and attend to more patients and families than ever before and is proud of the team’s growth and achievements since she joined it four years ago. 

“I cannot explain how humbled I am to be able to enter a patient-family’s room when they’ve received the most life-altering and devastating news. For them to allow me to sit among them and be in that sacred space and be vulnerable with them — it truly is an honor.”

Woman in blue medical scrubs smiles while sitting in a chair. 
Frasier-Rahim attributes much of her strength and success to family support.

She also has high praise for her team, one of the best parts of her job.

“I feel lucky that I’m surrounded by strong women on this team — we’re purposeful and mindful to each other in managing the complexities of our jobs. We adopted self-check-ins, promote self-care practices and allow moments of vulnerability — and, in an environment that is supportive and present for each other,” she said. “For me, a healthy Aminah translates to me being more aware, mindful and empathetic to the patients and families that I serve and care for.”

Fraser-Rahim is also quick to credit her strength and success to her mom and family. “Who I am today has so much to do with my mom and family and the empathy I show to others. It was always modeled to me growing up. They’ve always been there for me and always fill my tank up with love, therefore I can go and pour out that love to the families I care for,” she said.

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