While 1 in 90 nurses across Australia are palliative care nurses, unless you have been involved or helped by such a service it is hard to truly understand what palliative care is.

The specialist palliative care nurses at GV Hospice are seeking to encourage health professionals to study the specialty of palliative care nursing. To reduce the myths which often surround palliative care, GV Hospice employed a young person whose future lies in the health care industry, in the ‘gap year’ role of Client Support Officer.

Why the role was developed

Executive Manager, Faye Hosie, reflected on why the role was developed, “as a Service we felt it was important that potential undergraduates had an opportunity to experience first-hand the opportunities for knowledge and skill development that a speciality such as palliative care nursing offers. We wanted to highlight the complexity of skills required and the variation of activity that is experienced each day. Importantly with Ella, we have reinforced that palliative care is very much about living well each day, death is only one part of our activity, a privileged part we experience with carers and families.

Gaining insight into palliative care nursing

Ella Fiore pioneered the new Client Support Officer role as she juggled her third year nursing studies with a look behind the scenes as to what palliative care nursing is all about. Not having experienced such a role before, Ella soon learnt how important communication in a workplace is. Ella suggested learning new computer skills and refining her time management, helped to solve everyday problems and was beneficial to her nursing studies.

While the role was mainly administrative, it did not stop Ella from learning what was required of a nursing role in palliative care. “I learnt the importance of therapeutic relationships that nurses build with clients. The nurses are so adaptable, adjusting their language, ensuring each person had individualised care, and dealing with difference in how families react to a terminal illness.”

No two days are the same

Ella’s understanding of palliative care before taking on the role was basic, but she was amazed by the extensive knowledge and skills required of a palliative care nurse. Ella was surprised by the amount of coordination with other specialists, such as those working in oncology, or the role of the district nurse, or the strong relationship with the pharmacists and importantly the person’s doctor. Ella was amazed at the depth and breadth of the daily activity. Ella suggested ‘no two days are ever the same”.

Ella first thought that working in this specialised area, would be ‘sad’ and even ‘depressing’. The Client Support Officer role, enabled Ella to experience what Hospice was actually all about.

“Hospice is about helping a person and their family to have quality of life, despite their diagnosis. It’s just a normal workplace where you’re helping people. It’s a really enjoyable place to work and it has really helped me with my nursing studies. I have also gained experience in the administrative role which is a real bonus”.

Ella suggested her ‘gap year’ experience with GV Hospice had a dramatic impact on her opinion of what palliative care is all about. “Now I look at it more as an approach where the nurses support the patients, it’s not just about the dying process, or the disease, it’s about helping a person make the most of each day”, she said. While palliative care isn’t in Ella’s immediate future, she isn’t ruling out a return as she ventures further into her nursing career. She loved her time at Hospice and urges more young people to have the same experience. “I think anyone would enjoy being in the role”, she said.