Physical and even emotional pain is a common side effect of many illnesses, but few people have access to proper care.

Palliative care nurse sits with patient.If you have a headache, you probably reach for the ibuprofen. But the discomfort of a headache is nothing compared with the pain associated with life-threatening illness. In those cases, over-the-counter medication isn’t nearly enough. And the pain people experience isn’t just physical.

To alleviate the pain and emotional distress of serious or terminal illness, palliative care is often necessary. The problem is, not everyone in the world has access to such care, leaving many to suffer needlessly.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is healthcare that’s centered on making the seriously ill feel better. While a part of palliative care focuses on alleviating physical pain, the practice is much more holistic than that. In addition to pain relief, teams of palliative care providers help patients through the emotional, spiritual, social, and even practical problems that the illness can cause or exacerbate. Palliative care can begin with diagnosis and continue through to end of life. Palliative care, however, is not the same as hospice care. People who are expected to recover can still receive palliative care during their illness.

Who Needs Palliative Care?

Anyone suffering from an illness that’s causing them serious pain and distress is a candidate for palliative care. In general, however, most palliative care patients suffer from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and ALS. Because most life-threatening or chronic illnesses occur in people 65 and older, many palliative care patients are also geriatric patients.1

Who Provides Palliative Care?

The practice of palliative care is interdisciplinary. Depending on a patient’s needs, a palliative care team can include doctors, nurse practitioners, RNs, physical therapists, registered dietitians, social workers, psychologists, and clergy members. Those receiving palliative care can receive treatment from hospitals, home health agencies, long-term care facilities, or specialized medical centers.

How Many People Can Access Palliative Care?

Serious illness knows no borders, making palliative care a worldwide need. However, in most regions, access to palliative care is poor or nonexistent.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “[e]ach year, an estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care” but “[w]orldwide, only about 14% of people who need palliative care currently receive it.”2 In fact, a 2011 study shows that only 20 nations have well-integrated palliative care, while 42% of nations have no palliative care at all and 32% have only isolated palliative care.3 This lack of access is due to a number of issues, including an absence of palliative care training, an absence of palliative care coverage in health plans, and the harsh restrictions many nations have placed on access to opioid relief.

To expand worldwide access to palliative care, WHO recommends that nations with no or little palliative care institute:2

  • Health system policies that integrate palliative care services into the structure and financing of national healthcare systems at all levels of care.
  • Policies for strengthening and expanding human resources, including training of existing health professionals, embedding palliative care into the core curricula for all new health professionals, and educating volunteers and the public.
  • A medicines policy that ensures the availability of essential medicines for managing symptoms, particularly opioid analgesics for the relief of pain and respiratory distress.

How Can You Help People Access Palliative Care?

If you want to help people cope with the pain and distress of serious illness, you should consider becoming an adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPNNP) or an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP). As an adult gerontology primary or acute care NP, you will provide medical care for patients from adolescence through end-of-life, giving you the opportunity to help those patients through their most difficult times. And thanks to online learning, becoming an adult gerontology primary or acute care nurse practitioner is more possible than ever before.

Before you can start a career as a nurse practitioner, you first must complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. While earning an MSN used to require the hassle of driving to the campus of a nursing school, online education has made it possible to earn a master’s degree in nursing from home or from anywhere else you have internet access. Additionally, an online MSN program—including online gerontology nurse practitioner programs in both primary care and acute care—give you the flexibility to attend class at whatever time of day works best for you. This means you can complete your MSN program while you continue to work full time. Many people need access to palliative care. Thanks to adult gerontology primary and acute care nurse practitioner programs online, you can gain the knowledge and qualifications you need to provide that care.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering Master of Science in Nursing – Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and a Master of Science in Nursing – Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


1Source: www.uptodate.com/contents/palliative-care-issues-specific-to-geriatric-patients.
2Source: www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/palliative-care.
3Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23017628.

Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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