Patients rely on oncology nurses to translate the world of health care. They lean heavily on our expert knowledge when undergoing treatments for cancer. It’s not simply the facts we provide—like the pros and cons of a certain treatment—it’s helping patients understand how these facts impact their lives. This knowledge allows patients nearing the end of life to make informed decisions about whether they should continue treatment or seek referral to hospice care.

Most patients haven’t discussed advance care planning with their healthcare providers but are willing to do so. Without an understanding of how treatment decisions will impact them personally, patients with advanced cancer may choose continued treatment when no survival advantage is possible. In certain instances, they may allow the healthcare system to determine what care they receive.

Patients’ end-of-life goals, needs, and values should drive treatment decisions. Translating these concepts from patients to the healthcare team is a nursing function. 

How Do You Do This?

Refer patients to resources that help them get family conversations started. Considering using the kits provided at the Conversation Project.

Ask simple questions about goals, priorities, fears, and worries of the future to illuminate needs that nurses can communicate to the larger team. Helping patients identify what outcomes would be unacceptable may clearly define the boundaries of where treatment may be effective and where hospice should be offered.

How we want to die is as important as how we want to live. Nurses can provide voices to these issues to help patient priorities become care priorities.