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Surviving and Thriving: The Nurse-Patient Relationship in Palliative Care

The nurse–patient relationship in palliative care is perhaps unique amongst health service provider relationships, offering a challenge and an opportunity to both parties. It is a relationship built in times of adversity for the person in palliative care and demanding emotional maturity and resilience from the nurse.

Nursing practice has always placed the nurse-patient relationship at its centre. However, this relationship holds a place of particular significance in palliative care nursing. Aranda and Brown argue persuasively that this relationship is best understood as one born out of providing care that is intimate and physical, as well as technical and psychosocial.

This chapter argues that the task of palliative care nurses is firstly, to recognise that contradictory emotions and thoughts might surround practice in which there is emphasis on building a time/life-limited relationship, which brings both the promise and the fear of intimacy. Such recognition is a pre-requisite for understanding the elements which go into building a robust, mutually rewarding relationship. Doing so might enable the palliative care nurse to work with the conflicting emotions that will most likely emerge during their work in a person’s last days, weeks or months.

Contents include

  • A discussion on managing the nurse–patient relationship
  • Descriptions of stress and its effect on palliative care nurses
  • Consideration of the ‘good-enough’ nurse–patient palliative care relationship
  • Practical case studies
  • An extensive reference list (including books, journals and websites) for further reading and investigation
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Author / Editor Biographies

BA, Dip (Social Studies), MUP and PhD.
Dr Fiona McDermott holds a joint position in the social work departments at Monash University and Southern Health. Her role is to teach and work with social work practitioners in developing practice-based research. Fiona has a commitment to therapeutic work with groups. She is co-therapist of a long-term psychotherapeutic group for women with advanced breast cancer. The group has been running for 12 years. She is the author of Inside Groupwork and the co-author of Social Work and the Body. She has also published several refereed articles on her work with groups.
RN, RM, DipCommHlth, BAppSci, MNSt and PhD.
Louise Peters is Research Fellow in the Palliative Care Research Team at Monash University. Louise has substantial experience in service management, staff development and as a project manager in the area of palliative care. Her recent work has included projects that examined stress and burnout in palliative care nurses. Louise has co-authored several publications on research projects with which she has been closely involved, such as the role of the palliative care nurse consultant in acute hospitals and the role of the palliative care nurse in after-death care.

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