Observations of a health professional working in palliative care

Jun 5, 2024 | People in our care

Working as a registered nurse for over 25 years I have cared for many people who have been dying and, like many of my nursing and medical colleagues, I have had many and varied experiences around this.

Something that I have observed over this time is how everyone that I have worked with does their absolute best in the care of a dying person and those around them. We do however struggle when we perceive that things have ‘gone wrong’ or that someone does not have a ‘good death’. Health professionals, doctors and nurses can take these experiences very personally and think that they have not done a good job with a person or think that they should have done more or done better.

I recall an instance where the team I was working with were caring for a young man who had lived a hard life… a life of drugs and alcohol with no close relationships with family or friends. His death was a very long and drawn out process and we did everything we could to make this process as comfortable as possible.

After his death everyone in the team was re-examining everything that we had done in an attempt to see how we could have ‘done better’. In doing this I realised we were not looking at everything that we did in appreciation for the way that we cared for him.

We did not see:

  • the level of detail in the care we provided
  • the supportive and judgement-free way we approached him
  • how open, caring and respectful we were with him
  • how we saw him for him and not with any ideal or belief about the choices he had made in his life.

It can be challenging working with people who are dying for many reasons. Focusing on improving care based on our perceived failures or lack of something really just encourages us in the ‘doing things because I don’t want to fail’ and stops us from simply appreciating ourselves and what we all do bring to a situation, which could be something seemingly insignificant but completely amazing to that person and their family. 

Appreciating what we bring of ourselves to each situation, the way we care for people, the way we speak to people, our honesty, our humour, our willingness to be open and more, very much deserves to be acknowledged and supported to grow so that we see that more in ourselves every day. 

Health professionals really do amazing work with people who are dying. It is not always easy and comfortable but realising and understanding the impact of our care on all involved means we can embrace and deeply appreciate the importance of the part we play.

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