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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why I Became a Certified Hospice and Palliative ICU Nurse

by Lori Ruder

March 19 is Certified Nurses Day, a day set aside to honor nurses who improve patient outcomes through certification in their specialty. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) states: “A registered nurse (RN) license allows nurses to practice. Certification affirms advanced knowledge, skill, and practice to meet the challenges of modern nursing.”

As an ICU nurse, I see the challenges of modern nursing as witnessing sicker patients undergoing extreme measures; attempting to extend the length of life but not necessarily the quality of life. ICU nurses have 24/7 intimate contact with their patients. More times than not, I have a direct hand in implementing these extreme, often painful measures, leading to moral distress.

While most ICU nurses choose a Critical Care Registered Nurse certification (CCRN), I chose a certification with a primary aim to improve the quality of life for my patients and families: the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN). Palliative care focuses on holistic care of patients and their families, including management of physical, psychosocial and spiritual symptoms, as well as communication about patient and family concerns and how treatment aligns with each patient's values and preferences. ICU patients have serious and life-threatening illnesses requiring advanced care. These serious illnesses and the intensive care they require can cause critically ill patients to suffer from a variety of distressing symptoms including pain, dyspnea, delirium, fatigue, and anxiety. This advanced care frequently transitions to end-of-life care. I regularly see patients transferred to my unit when other measures are exhausted, when we are the last hope against the inevitable. Witnessing these symptoms and the difficult decisions made during the transition can cause families significant distress and remorse.

I have often said that I am a Certified Hospice and Palliative ICU nurse because many times my most critical care goes to the ones who are left behind. My certification in palliative care enables me to gently guide patients and families through the illness and the transition to end-of-life care. It allows me to simultaneously provide comfort and life-saving measures: concurrent critical care and palliative care, just as it can and should be. When I feel my patients and families aren’t getting the care they deserve, my CHPN credentials give me the knowledge base, confidence, and voice I need to advocate for them.

My certification also serves as an outreach for hospice and palliative care. My name badge has a noticeable yellow card behind it that says “LORI, CHPN”. The purpose of the card is to easily identify a nurse’s first name and certification. I am often asked by my patients’ families what the “CHPN” stands for. In this death-avoidant ICU culture one might hesitate to mention the words “hospice and palliative care”. I do not. I proudly explain the meaning of my credentials and their purpose: to provide expert symptom management and to guide my patients and families through serious illness while focusing on quality of life. By the time I am asked what my certification means, they have already witnessed me working to keep their loved one alive. They have already begun to trust me and know my intentions are good. They have seen me celebrate the good news, encourage their hope, and wish for their miracle. They see me on their team, hoping for the best while preparing them for the worst. Year after year nurses are voted the most trusted profession. What better way to demonstrate the importance and the good of hospice and palliative care than to have more bedside nurses with CHPN credentials?

On this Certified Nurses Day, I encourage any nurse who cares for patients with serious illness and who would like to see more care focused on quality of life to consider certification in hospice and palliative care. I believe we can have a hand in changing the culture of healthcare. The CHPN is the preferred nursing certification of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA). If you are interested in learning more about this certification and others offered, please visit the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center.

Lori Ruder, MSN, RN, CHPN is an ICU nurse at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, where she was the first ICU RN to attain certification in Hospice and Palliative Care. This certification has improved not only her care of patients and families, but also her job satisfaction. You can find her on Twitter @LoriRuder.

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