Our People in Profile: Palliative care nurse Katrina Patterson says Valley Hospice will help patients 'learn not about death, but about living'

Palliative care consultation nurse Katrina Patterson can't wait to see the Valle Hospice open its doors to the community (Contributed/NSHA).
Palliative care consultation nurse Katrina Patterson can't wait to see the Valle Hospice open its doors to the community (Contributed/NSHA).

If you asked long-time registered nurse Katrina Patterson, she’d say palliative care is about “treating the whole patient, as opposed to a clinical diagnosis.”

Patterson has been working in palliative care for her entire career, including during a definitive period of time on a medical floor, where she connected deeply with what she refers to as her professional duty to prioritize patient needs during one of the most important times in their life.

Now, Patterson is a palliative care consultation nurse based out of Wolfville, and travels around the Annapolis Valley to visit patients and help them live full lives.

“When I started nursing 34 years ago, there was no formal training or education in palliative care,” Patterson said. “I learned everything I had to on the job, working on different floors and units.”

Palliative care education has taken great strides over the past several years, she said, most notably around caring for the entirety of the patient – not just treating their sickness.

“Back then, we were trained to treat a patient’s disease or illness,” Patterson said. “I could see that we needed to be doing more and I wanted to change that.”

Today, a significant part of Patterson’s job requires her to travel throughout the community, visiting people’s homes to talk to patients and families about care goals and provide them with information about available services.

“Education is a big part of my job, but it’s not all I do,” Patterson said. “I work alongside family doctors, develop care plans, take referrals and assist with appointments like physiotherapy, nutrition or continuing care.”

While being able to visit her patients in their homes or chat with them by phone is beneficial, Patterson is particularly excited about the Valley Hospice in Kentville, which is set to open later this year.

Prior to breaking ground in October 2018, Patterson was approached by her manager to be the nurse representative on the planning committee – a role she was honoured to accept.

“Because there is no palliative care unit in this area or even a palliative care bed, I know this space will be a comfort to those who don’t want to be separated from their friends and family,” Patterson said.

Having the ability to collaborate with architects, community members, foundations and auxiliaries, as well as other health care professionals, has made her confident that the new hospice will give those who cannot stay at home a peaceful, all-encompassing environment with the expert support and care they need.

“Everything about it will be patient-centered,” Patterson said. “From being able to change the layout of a room and accessibility, to nature and programs that inspire active living; this centre will be one more alternative that we can offer patients.”

Patterson is also hopeful and excited for the future of palliative care education.

She believes places like the Valley Hospice will continue to inspire future generations to learn more, gain valuable experience and hopefully apply it throughout their careers.

“Imagine, a place where health care providers and allied professionals come together with patients and families to learn not about death, but about living,” Patterson said.  “I can hardly wait.”