Hospice Nurse Brings Comfort, Humanity to Patients

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Hospice Nurse Brings Comfort, Humanity to Patients

One of the hallmarks of humanity is learning to turn a weakness into a strength. Beth Honey, admissions nurse at Caris Healthcare, a hospice provider in Knoxville, TN, can personally attest to that.

“During my hospice rotation (in nursing school), I attended an interdisciplinary team meeting, and I cried through the entire meeting,” Beth recalls. “I left and called the teacher and told her I was never going back.”

Her teacher, Kathlene Smith, associate professor of nursing at Tennessee Wesleyan University, invited Beth to her office, where the two talked through the incident for nearly two hours. Looking back, Beth believes Smith’s training as a psych nurse proved invaluable in helping her put the incident into proper perspective. She tells this story often to put others at ease.

At Caris, Beth has what she says is likely the most unpredictable schedule on staff. In her role as admissions nurse, Beth handles all new patient intakes. Caris prides itself on speedy intakes, so a routine day can quickly turn on its head should a couple of new patient admissions come in.

“Usually I can be (at a new patient’s home) in an hour or so,” Beth says. “I explain hospice, and if they want to enroll, I do the head-to-toe nursing assessment. And if they have unmanaged symptoms, I get with the doctor or the pharmacist to get those conditions managed ASAP.”

When faced with their own mortality, many people quit listening to the doctor when he explains their prognosis or makes the hospice referral, which leads to questions for Beth. Others still haven’t properly grieved and need the chance to come to grips with their diagnosis.

“I spend as much time as needed during the initial visit to make sure the patient and family are comfortable with how Caris will work with them,” Beth says.

Finding her calling

Although Beth ultimately believes that a career in nursing was a calling for her, it certainly didn’t start out that way. Like many teenagers, Beth had no idea what the future held for her. She recalls taking a health science class in high school and taught by a teacher, Missy Bowers, whom she admired. “I wanted to be like her, and I liked science,” Beth says.

While in college working on her nursing degree, Beth actually worked at Caris, fielding calls in the call center on weekends. It was this experience that helped cement her desire to work at Caris after graduation—despite the IDT meeting incident. But she knew she needed practical experience first, so following graduation she worked for eight months at Roane Medical Center in Harriman, TN, before joining Caris in February 2015.

The intervening two years have been busy ones for Beth. Besides the new job, she got married in March 2016. Her husband is a biochemistry major at the University of Tennessee and works part-time in a pharmacy. The couple lives in Farragut, TN with their beagle, Bella.

Colleagues make all the difference

Even as she educates her patients about hospice and the care they are receiving, Beth also seeks out the counsel of her colleagues. “My nurse manager is very experienced, and I call my co-workers all of the time for advice,” Beth says. “We’re by ourselves all of the time, so it’s nice to run scenarios past my co-workers and use them for reference.”

She credits the team environment at Caris with helping provide holistic care to patients. Nurses, aides, a chaplain, social worker and volunteer coordinator all play important roles in overall patient well-being, not just medically from a comfort level, but psychologically, socially and pastorally as well.

When asked if she ever gets frustrated in her role as admissions nurse, Beth quickly says, “There’s not a lot of time for anger on the job.” But she does admit frustration when patients aren’t receiving excellent care or have unmanaged conditions.

And on a perfect day, “The patients I see are managed, and their symptoms are controlled. Whether we have a good day depends on whether our patients are having a good day.”

An ideal day would be ruined without the use of clinical software to help her do her job. “Except in nursing school, I’ve never had to paper chart,” Beth says. “I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t order equipment online, look up pharmacy records and have every piece of information on patients at all times.”

Beth believes her early negative reaction during the hospice interdisciplinary team meeting makes her a better nurse today. “It’s impossible not to get attached to patients,” Beth says. “It still gets to us sometimes, but, for the most part, you have to emotionally remove yourself and do the task at hand because the patient and the family need you.”

She cites 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the Bible verses about the importance of all parts of the body to the whole. The ideal hospice experience should be like that, with hospice workers, other caregivers and family coming together to provide comfort and caring during someone’s final days.

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