Clinical placements

Showing compassion for families is essential in end of life care

Let down by the care her dying mother received, nursing student Susan vowed to always treat the families of her patients with the care and compassion they deserve
Showing compassion

When nursing student Susan Turtons mother died in hospital, she and her family felt let down by the care they received from staff. Having worked with a mentor highly skilled in end of life care, Susan vowed to always treat the families of her patients with the care and compassion they deserve

Throughout nurse training, we are taught the importance of delivering holistic care and involving patients and their families in decisions about care and treatment.

My mentor while I was on placement on a medical ward was a huge advocate of this, showing me ways of gaining information from patients so they did not feel like they were being interrogated.

I learned from her how following the holistic path ensures that the patient

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When nursing student Susan Turton’s mother died in hospital, she and her family felt let down by the care they received from staff. Having worked with a mentor highly skilled in end of life care, Susan vowed to always treat the families of her patients with the care and compassion they deserve 


Holistic care that involves patients and their relatives is key at the end of life . Picture: Alamy

Throughout nurse training, we are taught the importance of delivering holistic care and involving patients and their families in decisions about care and treatment. 

My mentor while I was on placement on a medical ward was a huge advocate of this, showing me ways of gaining information from patients so they did not feel like they were being interrogated. 

I learned from her how following the holistic path ensures that the patient and their family gain the best possible outcome. She also tutored me on how to deal with a grieving family, and assisted me in helping them when the patient died. 

Reassurance

The way she prepared the family for the patient’s death, reassuring them every step of the way and being on hand to assist them throughout, was a huge learning curve for me. Until this point, I was nervous about being too close when death occurred as I thought the family may find it intrusive. 

I felt humbled and privileged to be there for the patient at the end of life, and to be able to advise and support the family with the help of my mentor. 

Two days after this placement finished, my mother was taken ill and died in hospital. The way my family was treated was the exact opposite of how my mentor had taught me to practice, and we all felt extremely let down by the staff. I vowed then that I would not let the families of my patients ever feel that way. 

I did not take any time off from university or my clinical placements – I had worked too hard to get on the course and mum would never have forgiven me. A few months later I was in a position to make a difference when I cared for a patient nearing the end of life. 

I made sure the patient was comfortable, and mouthcare regularly given; there is nothing worse for a family than to see their loved one unkempt with a dry mouth, even in the final stages of life.

Sensitivity

I made the family coffee and spent some time talking to them, discussing what was happening and what was likely to happen next. I apologised for intruding at such a sensitive time, but the family was appreciative of my help, grateful that someone saw them as people rather than just relatives. 

When the patient died, the family hugged me and thanked me for all I had done for their relative and them. They also praised me to the staff nurse on duty.

Showing compassion for people at the worst time of their lives is a huge part of the nursing role – it is what we train for. Remembering the kindness my mentor showed to grieving relatives, and my own feelings when I experienced the opposite, will make me a more caring, compassionate nurse.


Susan Turton is a third-year nursing student at the University of South Wales 

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