Emory endowment for palliative care

$6.5 million fund will develop nurse leader program

The National Guard

The Emory School of Nursing just received a $6.5 million endowment to establish a palliative care fellowship program to develop nurse leaders in the growing field of care for people facing life-threatening and chronic illness. The endowment, donated by the Helene Fuld Health Trust, will provide scholarships and program support to several students each year who will work with the Emory Palliative Care Center, an organization that offers team-based care to nearly 5,000 adult and pediatric patients each year.

We talked to geriatric nurse practitioner Carolyn Clevenger, a clinical associate professor at Emory School of Medicine, about the sizable endowment.

What are nurse leaders?
We’re referring to advanced practice nurses who are in leadership roles. On the healthcare team, we use situational leadership. The person who is most prepared or most knowledgeable in the situation takes the leadership role. It’s an informal leader at the bedside.

What is palliative care and why is it such an important/growing field in healthcare?
Palliative care is on a huge growth trajectory. It focuses on care for people with serious lift-threatening illness, including chronic illness. We have a growing population living with chronic illness. The misconception is that it’s end-of-life care. But it’s shown that it’s been really effective in easing symptoms for chronic illness, too. End-of-life care is just a small part of palliative care.

In healthcare, we’ve done a great job reducing sudden deaths from trauma. We’ve improved infectious disease management. It’s chronic illness that we’re living with. As we age, it’s chronic illness that we’re prone to. It’s not a surprise that we have a huge population dealing with chronic illness. It doesn’t align with a healthcare system that is focused on dealing with acute illness.

Is it a field that typically students were interested in in the past?
It depends on the life experience of the student. Having a little life experience and a little taste of health care—it’s a little eye opening. This focuses on second degree students, most of whom have had experience. The average age of these students is 32. They’ve had either personal experience, friends, or family members who have dealt with chronic illness, or have had some kind of role in healthcare as a nursing assistant or paramedic. Once they’ve see what the realities are versus what they think healthcare is, they’re very interested in palliative care.

It’s not just students who are interested in geriatrics anymore. You want a practitioner who can break bad news and can contribute openly. We felt like we need to have leaders, a couple of select students, who come out with real expertise to lead teams of clinicians who are going to be caring for people of all ages.

When will it start?
The first cohort will begin in May for summer semester. As part of the application, they have to create a statement of purpose. We’ll also hold interviews with candidates. It is not need-based. We want quality people who are really passionate and have a drive to focus on palliative care for their careers.