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On The Job: End-of-Life Care

OPB | March 6, 2012 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 11:18 p.m.

We’re continuing our On The Job series with three people who work in the field of end-of-life care.

Cliff Hall spent much of his career as a doctor in the intensive care unit, doing everything he could to keep patients alive. Now, he plays a very different role in the lives of patients facing death. As a palliative care doctor, Hall councils patients and their families. He says his top priority is understanding what the patient’s goals are. He says:

If there is a weakness in the way we practice medicine, its that we don’t frequently figure out what the patient’s goals really are and why they are in the medical system: do they want to be cured? Do they want to live longer? Sometimes, their primary goal is not to be a burden to their family. Sometimes, when we look at cases where people have had extended intensive care, the harms far outweigh the benefits for the patient and their family.

Hall says he’s gained a lot of satisfaction from saving people’s lives, but his greatest professional satisfaction has come from working with patients with chronic illnesses and empowering them to make choices about how they want to live out the time they have left. And he’s not alone. Everyone we spoke with for this show says they often get asked how they can do this work day in and day out and that they find the work to be immensely fulfilling, though it can be emotionally draining.

Do you have experience with hospice or palliative care — as a nurse, a doctor, a social worker or a family member of a patient? What questions do you have for people who work so close to death?

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