By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

VANCOUVER, Wash. – As a young oncology nurse, Andra Davis treated patients who were approaching death. She didn’t shrink from that service, but came away feeling “rewarded and enriched” by being present at that stage of her patients’ lives.

Now an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing in Vancouver, Davis’ interest in end-of-life care has only deepened throughout her career.

She and a research partner recently received a prestigious $25,000 grant from the National League for Nursing to measure nursing students’ understanding of palliative care.

“Grief and loss and bereavement need to be core competencies for nurses, I don’t care where they work. People grieve the loss of a uterus,” she said. “It’s so important to me that nurses feel comfortable having at least basic conversations with their patients.”

Davis and Megan Lippe, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, received the Dorothy Otto Research Award from the National League for Nursing to create a way to measure whether an undergraduate nursing curriculum makes a difference in students’ knowledge and perceived competency in palliative care.

They’ll start by defining the core constructs of palliative care education via a literature review, then convene a panel of experts to review and refine the list, and finally ask palliative care nurses and other professionals to weigh in. Later, they’ll evaluate how to measure a nurse’s competency in those core concepts, Davis said.

There’s support in the profession and in nursing education for this work, she added.

“Things have really shifted in terms of having this be a core element of practice,” she said. “I think people really do want that knowledge.”

Davis was honored recently by the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) for her commitment to teaching nurses about end-of-life care.