Educating nurses to provide better support

Julia St. Louis pursued a career in nursing because she always wanted to help people. She has worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as well as the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for her entire career and has found it incredibly rewarding to work with children.

Early in her career, she encountered an incredibly difficult situation where she had to support a family who was losing their infant. At the time, she felt there wasn’t adequate training to deal with how to handle and best support a family who is going through unimaginable loss.

“It felt like I was supposed to figure it out myself. I had supportive colleagues and was well cared for by the people I worked with, but it really struck me with how unstructured it was. I was just expected to do my best and meet this family’s needs at their most difficult time,” Julia recalls.

From this experience, she started to take an active interest in neonatal palliative care. The main objective of this care is to meet the family’s goals for their child, which is always different for each family.

“I think that common themes are ensuring the family has time to make memories with their child. There’s a big emphasis on doing things outside of being in the hospital room, like getting the baby outside, if we can. Doing things like bathing, photography, making sure we’re identifying the family’s goals and meeting them.”

Julia was awarded the Florence and Lloyd Cooper Alberta Registered Nurses Educational Trust (ARNET) Scholarship for the excellence she’s shown in pursuing her research in neonatal palliative care. Education advancement and research is one of Calgary Health Foundation’s priority areas in enhancing healthcare for our community.

“I’m so thankful to have my work recognized and there are people out there who make donations to facilitate this type of work. It has really lifted a financial burden.”

Through the scholarship, she has been able to work less and focus on her studies more.

Julia’s research aims to inform and guide future curriculum development that follows a systematic approach to learning about neonatal palliative care.

“My aim is that before you’re assigned to care for a family who has a patient who is dying, someone has sat you down and talked to you about how to talk to a family who’s going through bereavement.”

Currently, she feels that there isn’t a structured approach which she believes can help to improve care for families going through challenging circumstances.

“They don’t get a second chance at this, so it’s really important that we get it right. I want to lay the groundwork to develop effective interventions that are meaningful to the nurses who are actually doing this work.”

The goal of her research is to find a preemptive approach to educate nurses better for these types of situations.

Working at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, she’s had a vast amount of experience in both the NICU and PICU. For Julia, what is most important when providing palliative care is to be present with each family, to help them identify their needs, goals, and dreams for their child’s life and then try whatever she can to make that happen.

“You’re caring for the patient, and you’re really you’re caring for the family.”

By pursuing her Masters in the palliative care field, she’s been able to interview many nurses for her thesis and has learned a lot that has impacted her practice. She now feels more confident in being honest and open with families about what’s going on with their children and having difficult but meaningful conversations with them. She hopes to pursue a career in research once she’s completed her education.

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