Monday, February 24, 2014

The Conversation Project

This week I'm preparing to take my junior nursing students to a community site where they will talk with seniors about their end-of-life wishes, using The Conversation Project Starter Kit

This can be a difficult conversation. It can also be one of the most important conversations in a person's life. As nurses, we need to be skilled at communicating as well as listening. However, talking with people about difficult topics such as this can seem like an insurmountable task. But, like most things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Still, the first time is often the hardest. That's why it should be done when nursing students (or other health care professionals) are still in school.

As part of my endeavor to prepare nursing students for the challenges of palliative care nursing, last year I incorporated this assignment into their clinical experience. We go to a senior community, and each student interviews a resident volunteer, using The Conversation Project starter kit questions as a guide. They record the answers, and the resident is then given the form for their own use.

Student's response to this assignment last year was overwhelmingly positive. They knew this was something important to their practice, and they felt a great sense of accomplishment after doing it.

I like this assignment for several reasons. We conduct these interviews in a safe, low-stress environment, which makes it a "safe" experience. People are medically stable and in their own homes, so both resident and student are comfortable, rather than stressed by being in an acute situation.

Most of the seniors that students interviewed last year had already talked about related issues with their families and doctors. Because we do this in a senior independent and assisted living community, most residents have already been faced with the challenges and choices of aging and disability. And, we ask for volunteers who know what to expect.

I also like this because I think it can help the residents. These conversations may bring up things that they want to then talk about with their families, providers or the facility staff, and they have a written record of what they said that they or their families can use in the future.

If you are looking for an advance care planning tool to use with your patients, or that they can use themselves with their own families, consider The Conversation Project .