Campus Life  

UBC researcher tackles the complexity of palliative care

National study underway to explore nurse’s role in end-of-life care

UBC researcher Barb Pesut has spent her career working on ways to improve the quality of end-of-life healthcare, especially for people in rural communities. Pesut, a professor in the School of Nursing at UBC’s Okanagan campus, is the Canada Research Chair in Health, Ethics and Diversity.

Pesut was recently named UBC Okanagan’s 2018 Health Researcher of the Year.

Her current research looks at the role of nurses and nurse practitioners when it comes to medical assistance in dying.

Q: What is palliative care and why it has become such a topic of interest?

Palliative care is about improving the quality of life for those with serious illness. It focuses on alleviating suffering through assessing and treating challenges that occur in the final phases of life. We have a population that is aging with multiple chronic illnesses. The complexity of these illnesses and their treatment can result in poor quality of life. Without impeccable attention to these challenges, persons at end of life can suffer unnecessarily.

Q: What is Medical Assistance in Dying and how does it relate to palliative care?

Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAiD as it is known, is now available in Canada for individuals at end of life who meet certain criteria. It involves administering medication with the express purpose of hastening death. MAiD is somewhat controversial because it’s contrary to one of the central ideals of palliative care which is to neither postpone nor hasten death.

But, MAiD is now a part of the landscape of end of life care in Canada. We need to understand how it is being enacted, and more specifically, how it is affecting the quality of life and care for patients and their family. It is also important that we know how it affects those care providers who choose to participate, or not participate, in MAiD.

Q: Why is this important to study the role of nurses in MAiD?

Canada is the first country to allow nurse practitioners to provide medically assisted dying. Nurse practitioners are highly skilled professionals who can play a key role in access to MAiD. But so much of the success of an innovation of this nature is related to the practice supports that are in place. So, we will need to ensure that we collect the right data to evaluate and monitor this innovation over time.

Research suggests that MAiD, like all deaths, is a significant event which impacts in various ways all those who are involved, from physicians to nurses alike. It is important that we get this right.

Q: What is the next step in your research?

We have just completed a review of the international literature that addresses the role and experiences of nurses in MAiD. We are now embarking on a national study designed to better understand Canadian nursing-specific experiences in relation to MAiD.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca.

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