End-of-life and palliative care: The role and importance of nurses

Nurses play a vital role in the palliative healthcare field, providing comfort, relief, and support to patients nearing the end of their life. The approach is multidisciplinary, using medical, social, spiritual, and psychological care to meet the diverse needs of patients. Nurses not only coordinate and administer care in these regards, but they also support their patients’ families during this difficult period. 

Role of palliative and end-of-life nurses

End-of-life and palliative care are multifaceted, and nurses working in these areas have several responsibilities. Their main duties revolve around managing their patients’ physical symptoms, like nausea, pain, and difficulty breathing. These professionals are trained to assess symptoms and collaborate with doctors to design and implement treatments. They work directly with patients to monitor how they respond to treatments and adjust treatment plans where necessary to maximize comfort, manage symptoms, and reduce stress for patients. 

When providing emotional and psychological support to patients and families, nurses play several important roles. They communicate with families to learn about their concerns, suggestions, and the unique needs of patients, which may relate to their religion or culture. They help families by giving them updates and advice and supporting them with resources as needed. This helps family members make important decisions on behalf of their patient relatives. 

They may educate families about the various approaches of palliative care so they can make educated decisions on which direction to take treatment plans. This may involve discussing treatment options and describing different procedures and their potential outcomes. Nurses may also train other team members so they can keep care consistent for patients and drive the best possible outcomes. 

Spiritual support is also important for many patients when nearing the end of their lives, and nurses coordinate with various figures to facilitate this. They may work with chaplains or spiritual leaders within communities to arrange support that aligns with their spiritual needs. This may include prayer sessions, religious rituals, or connecting community spiritual figures with patients. 

Besides directly caring for patients, palliative and end-of-life nurses liaise with various healthcare providers to ensure those in their care get the treatments they require. They often work with doctors, specialist providers, and other members of healthcare teams to advocate for their patients’ needs and arrange care according to their preferences. As the main point of contact for patients during such a difficult time, nurses are vital to palliative and end-of-life care. They typically spend the most time with patients and their families throughout the process. This means they’re uniquely equipped to provide support and comfort to affected individuals. 

Palliative and end-of-life care nurse duties

Palliative and end-of-life care nurses are primarily responsible for ensuring patients receive the best standards of care as they go through the dying process. Their training allows them to assess patients’ needs, support the design and implementation of treatment plans, and assess areas for improvement on an ongoing basis. Here are some of their main duties:

  • Managing pain and symptoms – Individuals receiving palliative care often experience distressing symptoms and pain, which nurses aim to reduce and manage to maximize patients’ well-being. Nurses monitor their patients’ conditions, administer medications, observe potential side effects, and adjust medications and treatments where necessary. 
  • Providing psychological and emotional support – Many patients experience a need for emotional and psychological support. Nurses provide this by listening to them, comforting them, and providing reassurance. 
  • Educating patients – To help patients and their families make informed decisions about care options, nurses work with them directly to educate and provide resources. This involves relaying information about conditions, treatments, and prognoses. 
  • Planning care and treatment – It’s important for end-of-life care to acknowledge and reflect the wishes of patients and their families, whether these relate to cultural norms or end-of-life requests. 
  • Supporting families – Families may also struggle when a loved one goes through the end-of-life process. Nurses play an essential role in helping families cope by providing practical and emotional support.
  • Facilitating communication – Nurses tend to work with everyone involved in the end-of-life process, from different healthcare providers to patients to families. This allows them to facilitate communication between the various parties and ensure everyone is informed.
  • Increasing comfort – To maximize comfort for patients, nurses apply various comfort measures, like relaxation techniques, positioning, or carrying out special patient requests. 
  • Coordinating care – Because nurses work directly with patients, they’re often in a good position to understand their needs. This helps them coordinate care and organize different services. 
  • Arranging spiritual support – Many people require spiritual support during this difficult time, which nurses often arrange. They recognize and respect the religious or spiritual beliefs of patients and families and provide support where possible. 
  • Supporting the bereaved – Nurses often help bereaved families by giving them advice, resources, and emotional support.

What is a palliative nurse?

Palliative nurses support patients with serious medical conditions and terminal illnesses, and they have specialized training to care for these patients. This is called “palliative care”. Its goal is to minimize pain and discomfort and maximize the quality of life for patients during this difficult time. Besides easing physical and emotional suffering for patients, these nurses also support families in various ways, keeping them educated and providing comfort where possible. These nurses work in teams comprising various healthcare professionals and other figures, like physicians, chaplains, and doctors, to address patients’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 

Serious illness often comes with distressing symptoms, and a palliative care nurse’s main duty is to help patients manage these symptoms. They do their best to reduce pain, improve physical comfort, and emotionally support patients and their families. Having trained in complex symptom assessment, palliative nurses can manage symptoms relating to various serious illnesses, like heart failure and cancer. Palliative nurses act as the go-between for patients and primary care providers, so they coordinate care according to the needs and preferences of patients.

These nurses also play a crucial part in educating patients’ families, as this helps them understand diseases and the potential options for treating them. By describing procedures, possible outcomes and objectives, families can decide what’s best for their loved ones. They also provide practical advice on how to care for a family member with a serious illness or what to do following tragic events. To ensure care is integrated and consistent, palliative nurses coordinate care between different figures in healthcare settings. They also advocate for their patients’ needs, helping them access the best possible care and support. 

In summary, palliative nurses are well-trained and possess a range of hard and soft skills, which enables them to support families and patients in multiple ways. They directly improve the quality of their patients’ lives and ease their families’ difficulties. Their role in the healthcare system is a highly important one, and they make a tremendous difference in the lives of those they work with. 

Nursing roles explored

Nurses are some of the most important figures in the healthcare industry, and nursing roles include a diverse range of specialties and subspecialties. Here are some distinct branches of nursing for you to consider, along with the responsibilities of each position holder:

    • Registered Nurses (RNs): RNs make up the largest group of nurses and offer a versatile skill set. They can be found in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, clinics, and patients’ homes. They assess patients’ health, create, and execute care plans, administer medications, monitor vital signs, and educate patients and their families about their health conditions.
    • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs): These professionals work under the supervision of RNs or physicians, performing a range of patient care duties. These tasks include taking vital signs, administering medications, changing dressings, and assisting with personal care through activities like bathing and feeding. LPNs also maintain communication with patients, families, and other healthcare providers to guarantee high-quality care for patients.
    • Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs): CNAs play a crucial role in ensuring patients receive the care and attention they need. They assist patients with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and eating and perform basic patient care, like taking vital signs and changing bed linens. CNAs work under the supervision of RNs or LPNs.
    • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs): These are advanced practice nurses who specialize in a particular area of patient care, like pediatrics, oncology, or geriatrics. They work in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities and are responsible for providing expert patient care, developing, and executing care plans, conducting research, and educating other healthcare providers.
    • Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs): CRNAs specialize in administering anesthesia to patients undergoing medical procedures, such as surgical procedures, labor, and delivery. They work closely with anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other healthcare providers to guarantee safe and effective anesthesia care.
    • Nurse Practitioners (NPs): NPs are advanced practice nurses who offer primary and specialty care to patients. They assess patients, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and create care plans. You can find NPs working in hospitals, clinics, and private practices where they collaborate with various other healthcare providers.
    • Nursing Instructors and Educators: These healthcare professionals play an important role in producing the next generation of nurses. They teach nursing courses at universities, colleges, and technical schools, preparing students to become competent and compassionate nurses.
  • Dental nurses: Specialist dental nurses work alongside dental therapists and hygienists, providing support in various ways and assisting patients. They ensure workspaces are organized and clean, sterilize equipment, and prepare instruments for procedures. 

Nursing is a profession offering a broad array of career paths. Each type of nurse has its unique duties and responsibilities, but they all share the same ultimate goal, which is to provide the highest quality care and support to patients, families, and communities. Whether working as an RN, CNA, CNS, LPN, CRNA, NP, or nursing instructor, nurses are dedicated and compassionate professionals who hold crucial positions in the healthcare system. If you’re interested in a career in the field of nursing, click here to discover the best online MSN program. 

Importance of end-of-life care

End-of-life care is the comprehensive support provided to those who are nearing death. It’s an essential function of healthcare to ensure that individuals can spend their final moments in peace, comfort, and dignity. Here are some reasons why end-of-life care holds such significance:

  1. The primary focus of end-of-life care is to alleviate any physical, psychological, or emotional pain that the individual may be experiencing. This may include managing symptoms such as discomfort, shortness of breath, and anxiety, as well as offering emotional support and addressing any spiritual or existential worries.
  2. It provides a support system for the individual’s loved ones, who are often struggling with their own emotions and grief during this challenging time. End-of-life care offers resources and support to help these family members and friends cope, including counseling services and support groups.
  3. End-of-life care also empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their care. This includes having conversations about their values, goals, and treatment preferences, as well as the creation of an advance directive, which outlines their wishes for their care in the event they are unable to make decisions.
  4. It is essential to uphold the dignity and respect of the individual. This involves preserving their privacy and autonomy, and honoring their cultural, spiritual, and religious beliefs.
  5. It enhances the quality of life for both the individual and their loved ones. By providing comfort, support, and dignity, end-of-life care helps individuals face their final days peacefully and their loved ones to find closure and begin the grieving process.

End-of-life care is a vital component of healthcare that offers comfort, support, and dignity to individuals in their final days. By attending to physical, psychological, and emotional needs, end-of-life care enables individuals and their loved ones to manage the end of life and find peace and closure. It is imperative for healthcare providers, policymakers, and society as a whole to acknowledge the importance of end-of-life care and guarantee that individuals have access to the necessary support during this delicate time.

End-of-life care vs. palliative care

When individuals with severe or life-threatening illnesses embark on their journeys, they are met with two distinct paths of care: end-of-life and palliative care. Despite their similar objectives, these two forms of care differ significantly in their methods and scope.

End-of-life care concentrates on providing support and comfort during a patient’s last moments of a terminal illness. This care endeavors to alleviate pain and discomfort, granting patients the dignity and respect they deserve as they approach their final days. The main focus is to control physical symptoms and provide solace to both the mind and soul. It can occur in a hospice or the comfort of one’s own home, with additional hospice services, such as chaplaincy and grief support, being made available as required.

In comparison, palliative care adopts a more comprehensive approach to supporting patients with serious or life-limiting illnesses. Beginning at any stage of the illness, it continues until the end, addressing the patient’s complete well-being, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. This form of care encompasses not only comfort measures but also a deep comprehension of the patient’s goals, values, and personal preferences. It involves managing symptoms, offering emotional and spiritual support, and collaborating with the patient’s healthcare team to create a care plan tailored to their individual needs.

While both end-of-life and palliative care aim to enhance the lives of patients with severe illnesses, they do so in distinctive ways. End-of-life care prioritizes comfort and dignity during the final stages of life, while palliative care encompasses all aspects of the patient’s well-being throughout their entire illness journey.


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