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On front line of end-of-life care, nurses understand need to educate doctors

As a registered nurse with 46 years of nursing experience, I read “What to do when nothing can be done” (Page A1, Oct. 10) with great interest. End-of life discussions primarily have been the realm of nursing professionals. Nurses spend more time at the bedside and are trained to learn about the whole patient, including psychosocial and spiritual needs as well as individual family dynamics. Historically, we have taught new nurses by passing down stories of real end-of-life care and how we supported and advocated for patients and families.

In 2013, faculty in the simulation laboratory at Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing initiated a semesterlong course for senior nursing students, who follow a dying cancer patient. Besides learning the medical aspects of end-of-life care, these students get to know the patient and family. They learn how to ask the patient and family what is important to them if time is short.


In my decades of nursing experience, I have witnessed few physicians who were comfortable discussing death. Many perceive themselves as healers and death as personal failure.

So, I welcome the effort by the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care to teach physicians that end of life does not mean failure but rather an opportunity for true human caring and connection.

Rosemary Phalen