Palliative care nursing and research:  A call to arms to conduct nursing research

For the past year, we have invited a guest writer to contribute to our special series to celebrate the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife 2020. We thank all our guest writers for their contributions that so richly illustrate the benefits that nursing and midwifery bring to the health of the global population. Today, we hear from Professor Catherine Walshe in a post that was originally published just at the time of the outbreak of the pandemic and which some readers may have missed.

Catherine WalsheProfessor of Palliative Care at the International Observatory on End of Life Care at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, and Editor-in-Chief of Palliative Medicine, the official research journal of the EAPC.

Professor Catherine Walshe.

Their eyes glaze over. They find it complicated to understand. They don’t know where to find access to relevant information. Yep. I’m talking about research. And more so I’m talking about nurses and research. As a nurse myself, and an educator, I feel able to give myself and my profession a steely gaze and acknowledge that we haven’t done as good a job as possible in helping nurses to understand how important research is, either as producers or consumers of research. Yet, in this International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we clearly recognise that nursing is critically important to palliative care. Nurses are usually the most common healthcare professionals providing care and they likely have most contact with patients. Can we be assured that the care that they give is research based, where possible, in good evidence? In my view, probably not, as research is, for many nurses, not a core component of their educational preparation or ongoing development. There is little funding or support for them to conduct research, and typical career pathways or job plans don’t encourage research activity. There are notable exceptions such as the National Institute for Health research leader programme and clinical researcher development awards  in my own country, the UK, but I think it fair to say that research remains peripheral to much nursing practice.

And yet, there is great and influential nursing research out there that should guide our nursing practice. Sometimes we likely don’t recognise that it is nursing research or research about nursing practice. So, for example, do you recognise that the core component of the ENABLE trial of early palliative care is nurse coaching? Sometimes it is important that we look at reviews of multiple studies to guide our practice, such as this review that clearly demonstrates that interventions by specialist nurses in palliative care are effective in reducing healthcare resource use such as admissions, re-hospitalization, length of stay and healthcare costs. Research with nurses can tell us the characteristics that contribute to being ‘brilliant’ at providing palliative care through anticipation, commitment, and flexibility. Research can also indicate that perhaps some nurse interventions such as ‘nurse champions’   for palliative care in hospitals may not make a difference, from the point of view of bereaved relatives and we should rethink particular ways of providing care.

Pictured are some of the nurses who have received the prestigious EAPC Researcher Awards awarded by the EAPC and EAPC RN in recent years. Clockwise from top row: Dr Bridget Candy (with Prof Stein Kaasa); Prof Irene Tuffrey Wijne; Dr Julie Kinley (with Dr Ole Råkjaer); Prof Catherine Walshe and Dr Geanna Kurita. Established in 2009, the EAPC Researcher Awards recognise the work of scientists and clinicians in the field of palliative care who have made an outstanding contribution to research and clinical practice. 

What nursing research in palliative care often contributes is a real focus on the personal and interpersonal aspects of care for people who are dying – areas that we know are critical to care provision, and how people experience care.

We need a multi-pronged approach to ensure that such nurse-led and influenced research is common, published, read, and incorporated into practice. This is clearly a complex area, not just within palliative care. However, we can ensure that understanding and using research is at the heart of specialist palliative care nurse preparation. We can create time within palliative care nursing posts for research activity, and ensure that nurses are represented in palliative care research teams. We should help prepare nurses at PhD level so that they can become our nurse research leaders in palliative care for the future.

I started my nursing career in 1983 in a nurse degree programme where research was central to the education we received (thank you Manchester University), and that experience shaped my research career. Let’s make it possible for many more nurses.

Celebrate the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife 2020 on the EAPC blog #nurses2020 #midwives2020 View the series here.



This entry was posted in International Year of Nurse & Midwife 2020, Nursing, RESEARCH and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Palliative care nursing and research:  A call to arms to conduct nursing research

  1. seanog57 says:

    the same applies – even more so – to social work in palliative care… if only we had more resources and research was core to our basic training – which it is not.

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