The day my nursing practice changed

Palliative care is about offering hope as well as support
Maria Parry - Palliative Care

Maria Parry specialises in end-of-life and palliative care nursing. A nurse academic at USW, she also trains the next generation of adult and palliative care nurses

"I have spent most of my nursing career working in cancer care and hospices. Being part of a person's last hours is such a privilege. As a palliative care nurse, your role is focused on the quality of life as opposed to the quantity of life. That is what makes it so rewarding.

Soon after I qualified, I was lucky enough to get a job on a busy surgical ward, working mainly nights. I enjoyed the challenge this brought, the emergency nature of the surgery by night, the patients who were post surgery and those in waiting for their operation, it had real variety. 

I met a young woman in her thirties while on a night shift. She was being nursed in a side room and was waiting for news on her bowel surgery. The news was not good, she had advanced cancer of the bowel. They had removed what they could but she needed to be referred to the oncologist and they were hoping she would be given chemotherapy.

This was a new aspect of care to me and while she was waiting for more news during this time, she clearly needed to talk. 

It was important that I had noticed those signs and gave her the time to be able to talk through her fears, and questions. Her pain was not physical from her surgery but psychological from her fear of what was to come, the unknown.

Over the next few days the news was not good, she was offered palliative chemotherapy with the prospect that the disease could not be cured. I sat with her that night really not knowing what to say and just allowing her to talk. She pointed to a picture of a little boy and explained it was her son Ben, he was two years old. She had had problems conceiving, she explained, and was not leaving him now after all that trying, she was not ready to die. 

I really didn’t know what to say so I just listened. And she said thank you.

This nurse-patient relationship is an incredibly important part of the role. It is made up of empathy, respect and attitudes - and it was so important here. 

I think at that moment, my nursing practice changed. I knew I had to work in this field, trying to help people live through some dark moments but also offer some hope and focus on the quality of life for that person. 

This was what I wanted to do not just for one or two patients but for all the people I looked after. This is what we know now as palliative care.

When I am teaching end-of-life sessions to nursing students, the thing they most often worry about is what to say. My advice is that, as a nurse, sometimes less is more and you just need to listen and be there."

Find out more about studying pre and post-registration Nursing courses at University of South Wales.