August 6, 2004

New palliative care focus in nursing school program gets big boost from division of Nursing grant

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Stephanie Schultz

New palliative care focus in nursing school program gets big boost from division of Nursing grant

The School of Nursing’s new palliative care focus in the Adult Nurse Practitioner Program recently received a boost of support in the form of $750,000 in funding from the division of Nursing to expand the program to be offered in a distance format.

James Pace, D.S.N., M.Div., professor of Nursing and director of the new palliative care focus in the adult nurse practitioner specialty, said the program at VUSN is groundbreaking.

“Palliative care is not addressed in health care education, for the most part, nationwide. This is only the third such program in the country in palliative care, and as far as I know, the only program attached to an adult nurse practitioner program,” Pace said. “It will prepare nursing students not only for primary care delivery, but also palliative care,” he added.

Palliative care begins with the diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening and limiting condition. In recent years, its place in hospital-based care has evolved as the number of patients seeking palliative care has increased.

“It’s been shown in studies across the country that palliative care is highly understaffed and needs are not being addressed, particularly when dealing with death and dying, advanced directive issues, pain management, bereavement, needs of survivors, and chronic care needs in nursing homes,” Pace said.

But the new program at VUSN hopes to fuel a new trend in palliative care. In fact, the Center to Advance Palliative Care noted that in 2002, the number of hospital-based palliative care programs made a 20 percent increase over the previous year, and today over 800 hospitals, including Vanderbilt, offer programs.

Research has shown palliative care programs help to relieve pain and distress in patients, support ongoing evaluation of care and patient goals, improves quality of life and satisfaction of both patients and caregivers, improves the management of a patient’s transition between settings, and reduces long, high-intensity and costly hospital stays. In addition, in its annual ranking of hospitals, U.S. News & World Report now includes the presence of palliative care services in the evaluation criteria.

Pace said the grant will allow the nursing school to offer the new palliative care focus in the blocked, distance format. This option allows students across the Southeastern United States to enroll in the program and study from a remote site, attending classes and training sessions on the Vanderbilt campus up to four times a semester.

“This money will allow us to purchase equipment to work with the students in a long distance setting, and it will help us to recruit students, as well as create a network of interdisciplinary sites to address palliative care from many different directions.”

Pace said the new palliative care focus will address pain, comfort, symptom management, and the role of spiritual care in patients facing an end-of-life diagnosis.

The program will collaborate with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the Pain and Symptom Management program at VUMC, the Divinity School, and multiple clinical sites in the community, as well as the home community of each student enrolled in the program.