Building capacity in palliative care for personal support workers in long-term care through experiential learning

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Abstract

Background.

Providing palliative care in long-term care (LTC) homes is an area of growing importance. As a result, attention is being given to exploring effective palliative care learning strategies for personal support workers (PSWs) who provide the most hands-on care to LTC residents.

Aim.

The purpose of this intervention was to explore hospice visits as an experiential learning strategy to increase the capacity of PSWs in palliative care, specifically related to their new learning, and how they anticipated this experience changed their practices in LTC.

Design.

This study utilised a qualitative descriptive design.

Methods.

Eleven PSWs from four Ontario LTC homes were sent to their local hospice to shadow staff for one to two days. After the visit, PSWs completed a questionnaire with open-ended questions based on critical reflection. Data were analysed using thematic content analysis.

Results.

PSWs commented on the extent of resident-focused care at the hospice and how palliative care interventions were tailored to meet the needs of residents. PSWs were surprised with the lack of routine at the hospice but felt that hospice staff prioritised their time effectively in order to meet family and client care needs. Some PSWs were pleased to see how well integrated the PSW role is on the community hospice team without any hierarchical relationships. Finally, PSWs felt that other LTC staff would benefit from palliative care education and becoming more comfortable with talking about death and dying with other staff, residents and family members.

Conclusion.

This study highlighted the benefits of PSWs attending a hospice as an experiential learning strategy. Future work is needed to evaluate this strategy using more rigorous designs as a way to build capacity within PSWs to provide optimal palliative care for LTC residents and their family members.

Implications for practice.

PSWs need to be recognised as important members within the interdisciplinary team. PSWs who shadow staff at hospices view this experience as a positive strategy to meet their learning needs related to palliative care.

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