College of Nursing Introduces New Palliative Care Courses to Increase Empathy

Starting in the 2017 fall semester, the BYU College of Nursing will incorporate a series of modules related to palliative care into its existing program. This will pave the way for nursing students to earn a industry unique vocational certificate and be better prepared for their future careers.

The addition of six modules, based on a curriculum created by the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), is being directed by assistant teaching professor Karen De la Cruz, who is herself an ELNEC member.

Palliative care is essentially helping those who are at life’s end and their families to be, in De la Cruz’s words, “comfortable.”

“Your end goal is to ensure that the client has the best physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual outcomes possible,” she says.

With an aging population, De la Cruz believes that now more than ever is the time for students to understand the principles behind palliative care. The ELNEC curriculum addresses various topics that will enable students to be more effective in this area of nursing.

“It’s wonderful because it includes all of the crucial elements that need to be addressed at end of life,” she says. These elements include not only caring for the patient, but also understanding insurance rules and knowing how to address the stress other family members’ experience.

The six new modules will be spread throughout second and third semester in different classes. Students will pay a one-time $29 fee and in exchange will be able to earn a certificate that De la Cruz, a former hospital hiring manager, says looks great on a resume. They also are critical for working in any area of nursing.

“It doesn’t matter where you work in nursing—eventually you’re going to run into a patient who dies, even if you’re trying to avoid it,” she says. She emphasizes that it’s not simply the elderly that palliative care applies to, but also any patient who is facing death. What’s more, she says, it is important for nursing students to know how to handle death of loved ones in their own lives.

The mission of the BYU College of Nursing is heavily based on the Savior’s example. De la Cruz believes that the introduction of the palliative care program will help students be more like Him.

“What I love as I look at the life of the Savior and how He interacted with people was how tender He was with people who were struggling with emotional problems or spiritual problems or physical problems,” she says. “He was tender, and He was a healer who was able to look at the whole picture. I think that people who are facing end-of-life are particularly vulnerable and that this is a population that deserves all of the tenderness that we can offer them.”

It’s a wonderful thing to have compassion, and I think that we have some of the most compassionate students that I’ve ever run into. But this will give them the tools to direct that compassion in a useful way, and I think that ‘s a huge focus here at the college of nursing in all the things that we teach our students.”


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