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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Filling the Gap

student voice - jennifer cocio-thompson '09 - fall/winter 2007

Have you ever sensed a gap in your care for the critically ill or dying patient?  Has your experience as a nurse led you to question, “What more could I have done?”  Have you contemplated, “Is this all I have to offer this family?”  Have you ever felt like the focus of your patient’s quality of life has been lost or overlooked?

During the last 11 years of my career as a pediatric bone marrow transplant, pediatric intensive care and neonatal intensive care nurse, I have struggled with some of these questions.  At times, even thinking these questions while in my practice has felt like I was going against the grain or threatening the status quo. It has not always been easy or comfortable to search for answers or strive for change.

Yet, this questioning and sense of inquiry has led me to my graduate study at Boston College.  Currently I am a student in the MA/MS dual degree program—a joint program between the Connell School of Nursing and the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. This unique program has given me a way to reflect on my questions, not only through pastoral care and counseling but also through the role of an advanced practice nurse specializing in palliative care. 

I see palliative care as a refocusing of the lens we use to perceive our patients and their diseases.  Palliative care is a multi-layered, multifaceted advancement that centers on the patient and their family, providing a means through which pain and suffering can be relieved in an effective and tangible manner.  I believe the new palliative care program at Boston College is a comprehensive and unique specialty that is answering a current need in our healthcare system. 

Palliative care provides an interdisciplinary team approach to patient care.  I see such a program in a hospital or outpatient setting as a guiding force in helping patients achieve their personal goals in the midst of an illness or disease process.  The essence of the team approach in palliative care is to collaborate on a patient’s quality of life regardless of their medical or disease prognosis.  It provides a way to actively and holistically care for a patient and their physical symptoms, offering family-centered care and working towards a balance in a patient’s emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. 

Through my study of palliative care, I have come to believe that heath care practitioners need to have a greater understanding and appreciation of their patients—particularly their patients’ struggles. Focusing on palliative care as an authentic means to treat patients has helped me begin to answer my questions; it is allowing me to close the gaps in care I had once sensed existed. I feel that the study of palliative care has encouraged me to revise my own perception of my role as an advanced practice nurse, providing me with the knowledge, freedom and confidence to move beyond my questions and into action. As I continue to develop in my role as an advance practice nurse I am thrilled to be a part of an emerging and dynamic area of study.