College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Value of nursing education highlighted in personal experience

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, September 7, 2023 - 12:45pm

Over the past year, I learned firsthand that hardships and adversity, while difficult and often heartbreaking, also sometimes bring unexpected gifts and discoveries that can open us up to seeing our world and our lives in new ways. During CR’s recent convocation activities, I shared with my college colleagues that the sudden deaths of both my brother and my son just one year ago offered me that kind of growth experience. From those dual tragedies, I am learning the importance of strengthening our connections and relationships. As a college and as a community we must look beyond the “us versus them” machinations of power we have become so used to seeing. No matter how frayed relationships have become over time, we can still reach out to others who might be suffering, perform acts of kindness, listen to each other, and lift one another up during times of despair. As colleagues, we can keep making CR the most welcoming, caring, engaging, and inclusive college possible where everyone will feel a sense of belonging and can be their authentic selves. I firmly believe that this is a worthy goal and something that we must achieve together.

Shortly after my convocation address, I was notified that my mother had also passed away. While her passing leaves a hole in my heart, it was not sudden like the deaths of my brother and son. As she began to transition toward her final days, my appreciation renewed for hospice services and the hospice nurses who took care of her. Before my mother’s passing, I did not fully realize how critical nurses and social workers are in end-of-life care. I always had a sense of how extremely hard it must be for both patients and family members in the weeks or months a loved one is within the hospiice care setting and approaching death. But I am more aware now. I have a firsthand understanding of what it’s like to be the child who must make difficult decisions regarding end-of-life treatments for his own parent. But that’s when hospice nurses and social workers are there with us. With their skills and knowledge, they lead families to the most compassionate decisions during a time when we are often confused, scared, and overwhelmed by anticipatory grief and unfamiliar information about medications, treatments, and timelines.

The duties of a hospice nurse go beyond what one will ever read in a brochure and often include the important role of simply staying present with the patient. Throughout my mom’s care, nurses performed daily skilled medical work. But there were also times when the hospice nurse would just sit by my mother’s bed, hold her hand, rub her arm, look into her eyes, share stories about life, and generally just be there for her and my family. That is the side of hospice nurses that makes them special.

The care provided to my mother has deepened my appreciation for our nursing faculty and our nursing department. I am extremely proud to know that our College of the Redwoods nursing students receive instruction in end-of-life care and have the chance to do community rotations through Hospice of Humboldt. I am pleased that our director of nursing, Jessica Howard, is a palliative care certified nurse, and our associate faculty, Janne Gibbs, and Paula Amis, have hospice experience. Jessica, Janne, and Paula are uniquely qualified to show our nursing students the important role that they play in end-of-life nursing care and in easing the suffering of patients and their families. It takes extraordinary people to do this type of work.

It is comforting to know that students who graduate from our nursing department may, at times, be the sole source of support to the dying and the families of the dying, as our hospice nurses were for my family. I believe that the work and caring of these nursing students will make a true and lasting contribution to our families.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.