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Keywords:

  • dying patients;
  • empirical research report;
  • expert nursing;
  • interviews;
  • nursing;
  • palliative care;
  • phenomenology

Aim.  This paper reports a study of the perceptions of patients and nurses of palliative care and, in particular, the concept of the expert palliative nurse.

Background.  Palliative care is a growing speciality and is practised globally. There is, however, limited information on patients’ views about palliative care. While the idea of expertise in nursing is not new, few studies have explored the concept of the expert nurse in palliative care. Some evidence exists on palliative nurses’ perceptions of their care, that it is supportive and involves maintaining therapeutic relationships with patients. Facing a terminal illness has been identified as a stressful and fearful experience that affects all aspects of life. It has also been revealed that dying patients may have unmet care needs, mainly in the areas of pain and symptom control, emotional support, and spending time alone.

Methods.  A phenomenological study was carried out, using in-depth interviews and thematic content analysis. A convenience sample of 22 Registered Nurses and 22 dying patients was interviewed in 1996–1997.

Findings.  Dying patients had a desire to maintain independence and remain in control. Palliative care nurses experienced both effective and ineffective interpersonal communication, the building of therapeutic relationships with dying patients and attempting to control patients’ pain and distressing symptoms. Patients and nurses agreed that the two most important characteristics of an expert palliative nurse were interpersonal skills and qualities such as kindness, warmth, compassion and genuineness.

Conclusion.  Although the study was conducted in the United Kingdom, the findings have relevance for palliative care practice globally in terms of dependence, issues of patient choice, nurses being interpersonally skilled and building therapeutic relationships with patients.