Challenges When Working With Clients at the End of Their Life

What type of personality is required to work in a palliative care centre that looks after patients at the end of their life? Chantal Laferrière, managing director of the Source Bleue Palliative Care Home Foundation sheds light on the matter.

Unlike curative care, whose purpose is to cure a person with a disease, the goal of palliative care is to provide the sick person with the best possible quality of the end of their life. Palliative care staff will seek to alleviate patients’ physical pain until their death, which is inevitable, as well as to manage their psychological, social and spiritual needs.

Working as a team

In order to provide all the care patients need at the end of their life, each palliative care centre typically has a multidisciplinary team, among whom are doctors, nurses, patient attendants, social workers, massage therapists, spiritual guides and volunteers. Although everyone plays a different role with clients, “everyone has to be able to work as a team… as well as with death,” explains Chantal Laferrière.

Compassion and respect

Indeed, according to Chantal Laferrière, the principal characteristic of employees working in palliative care is to be ready, day after day, to face death. “They must also understand that despite the sickness and imminent death, the patient is alive to the end.” Hence the importance of seeing them as an individual entitled to receive compassionate and respectful services. “For example, if a patient wants to meet with a Buddhist priest or monk, staff must be open-minded and grant the request without judgement.”

Grief and empathy

Being ready to work with death doesn’t mean being without pain. For each person who dies there is the experience of grief. Consequently, one of the challenges for the care team is to create an empathetic relationship with each patient while maintaining a healthy emotional distance. “There is a balance needed that is not always easy to maintain,” says Chantal Laferrière. “That’s why our employees only work part time. This allows them to have time to ‘come to terms with bereavement’, think of themselves and unwind.”

That said, beyond consecutive bereavements, the managing director insists, “Dealing with death every day forces a reflection about how you really want to live your life.” That, in her eyes, constitutes an invaluable motivation and gift.

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