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A Q&A with Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner Erin Egan

Erin Egan, NP, MSN, APRN, A-GNP-BC, is one of four palliative nurse practitioners on the NVNA and Hospice team caring for patients across the South Shore region. After working in emergency medicine and geriatric primary care, Erin realized how much she valued the times when she could connect with patients and understand the complexity of their individual lives.

Through researching opportunities that would allow her to build on connections with her patients, Erin found her ideal role at NVNA and Hospice in palliative care: a holistic, person-centered approach to care focused on improving the quality of life of patients with serious illnesses by alleviating symptoms and finding hope in the present day.

We provide award-winning home health services and hospice care services to our community. Below, Erin offers a glimpse at the life of a palliative care provider and what it means to be a part of this non-profit organization.

Q: What does a typical day look like for a palliative care nurse practitioner?

A: I see about four patients a day at their homes where I conduct new and existing patient and family meetings. My role is to discuss symptom relief, identify how they are holistically reacting to medications, prescribe new treatments as needed, and then coordinate with their physicians on care plans.

If I am visiting a patient for the first time, I may spend up to two hours with them, as it is crucial to obtain a full picture of their lives and learn what is important to them as a person and patient. This includes navigating their goals and consulting with their direct caregiver or family.

I later document the takeaways from our interactions so I can make an informed plan for how to proceed based on all the factors I’ve observed in my time spent with them. My palliative colleagues and I meet biweekly as a team to discuss cases and offer insights to help our patients along the trajectory of their care.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

A: The opportunity to develop relationships with my patients as I spend time with them in their own environments. I feel lucky to get to know who they are as we focus together on enriching their lives, not just on their diagnosis. Patients are happy to see me when I arrive; I become part of their family.

Q: What has surprised you about palliative care since taking on this role?

A: The sheer amount of people who can benefit from palliative care. All my colleagues at NVNA and Hospice are focused on elevating patient care, and we don’t hesitate to bring the palliative team onto a case as needed.

I’m proud to say that the physician community and our organization truly work in tandem. We become an important element of a patient’s care, and in turn, we understand when the physician is needed. Palliative care helps to reduce re-hospitalization rates, and proper symptom management helps patients get back to participating more fully in their lives.

Many people don’t know that palliative care is not synonymous with hospice care. Although hospice is under the palliative umbrella, hospice focuses on comfort and end-of-life care, whereas palliative care is continued care across the span of any serious illness.

Q: The impact of palliative care is remarkable. Can you share a patient story?

A: I recently worked with a patient with extensive respiratory disease who informed her doctor that she wished to address her quality of life and hoped to get back to partaking in her favorite activities. Her pulmonary specialist referred her to NVNA and Hospice for palliative care. After meeting with the patient, assessing her condition, and understanding her specific goals, we focused on her anxiety regarding her shortness of breath.

She is now traveling and cooking again, with plans to visit family over the holidays—something she didn’t feel up to before. The pulmonary specialist recorded in this patient’s chart that she expressed excitement about her newly rediscovered energy.

Q: What specifically drew you to a nursing career in palliative care at NVNA and Hospice?

A: This is an organization that is focused on providing high-quality patient care. The support I have had while working here is wonderful and as a mom of four, I also enjoy the flexibility.

I truly feel that we make a positive difference in the lives of our patients: the most unique thing about palliative home care is the time we can spend with them. It’s incredibly fulfilling and the most lovely part of this job, because you get to see the difference that you make. I so appreciate that I have the chance every day to bond with our patients and their families to figure out what matters to them and how to improve their quality of life.

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