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A student nurse’s impact on end of life patient care

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What difference can a student nurse make though?”

katy sutherland

katy sutherland

The End of Life Care Champions Network. I’m not sure how that sounds to people, but I’m normally faced with a quizzical but intrigued expression. The Champions Network is a collective of healthcare professionals from across the Trust who want to ‘champion’ best practice in all areas of end of life care. The network includes consultants, staff nurses, ward managers, clinical nurse specialists, nursing assistants, students nurses, porters and chaplains, from many specialities and disciplines. It’s a hugely important network and has opened up many opportunities for me.

Essentially, throughout my time as a student nurse (Adult Nursing) I have worked closely with the End of Life Care team at my Trust to become more knowledgeable and confident in End of Life Care practices. As student champions (there were only two of us at the beginning of the year, and we have now recruited from every Adult Nursing cohort in our faculty!) we aim to encourage students to have conversations about end of life care and the best practice for nursing patients with individualised end of life care plans. However, having these conversations normally leads to the question;

What difference can a student nurse make though?”

I will tell you one example. While on an elderly care placement, I was privileged to be closely involved with a patient’s end of life care whilst on the ward. The patient had been admitted while acutely unwell and the decision on whether to commence an individualised care plan for last days of life had not yet been made. Having worked with the patient over a couple of shifts, his deterioration was obvious.

Despite his worsening symptoms, we had a long conversation about reading and I ensured I found a couple of his favourite type of books. Although not able to read by himself any longer, it was crucial for me to make sure the patient felt like an individual. Facing his bed towards the window (with a beautiful view over London) ensured that he was not staring at a blank white wall all day, especially as a side room can feel particularly isolated. Small actions, but of crucial importance.

Through my previous knowledge and experiences of end of life care (alongside the ‘nursing intuition’ that is frequently referenced in all good practice) I began to notice that the patient was becoming despondent and more distressed. At this point, I liaised with the end of life care and medical teams to understand whether a decision had been finalised. In addition, I ensured the patient was receiving adequate pain relief and other symptom control medications for his worsening condition.

Being an advocate for the patient is so important to good nursing practice. Particularly in end of life care. The End of Life Care Clinical Nurse Specialists gave me great support in voicing my opinion of the patient’s condition and allowed me the recognition for my observations and clinical judgement decision.

As we all know, being a student nurse is not just about shadowing your mentor and learning clinical skills, it’s about building confidence and making sound clinical judgements. This scenario could be applied to many settings where the principle will remain the same; trust your instinct and voice your opinion, you’re NOT ‘just a student nurse’.

The End of Life Care Champions network has given me the confidence to speak about my experiences and also taught me a lot of crucial clinical knowledge. Any area of nursing you are interested in, get involved as a student. Become a champion for end of life care, or dementia care or falls prevention. Whatever it is, it will only enhance your training.

And the answer to my original question is simple; student nurses can make a huge difference. The smallest of actions can contribute immensely to a peaceful and comfortable end for a patient.

 Katy Sutherland

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