Pathways to Palliative Care – Judy Knudson, MPAS, PA-C

FacultyPathways to Palliative Care

We have all found our way to End-of-Life care and what we do for our patients is fascinating but just as interesting is how we all got here.  Continuing our series, “Pathways to Palliative Care,” we feature Judy Knudson, a Board Certified Physician Assistant specializing in Hospice and Palliative Care.

We are encouraging all Palliative Care professionals to share their “pathway to palliative care”.  What were your challenges, obstacles and lessons learned along the way?

The mission has not changed – Judy Knudson, MPAS, PA-C

When I was a new nurse, Elizabeth Kubler Ross came to Watertown, South Dakota.  I could not pass up an opportunity to spend a day with her.  We had read the book “On Death and Dying” in our BSN program and I was awestruck by the commonality of the steps people go through in the process of “death and dying.”

Dr. Ross sat all day with an intimate group of about 30 attendees, telling of her lessons learned and interactions with people in the last stages of their lives.  Two of the many things that I remember learning from her that day were that  people reduce their contacts as their energy fades and if you are in that small circle of contacts, you are very privileged.

Also, I learned that people often give away things dear to them that they needed, when they no longer can use them.  She told of a man who gave her his engraved cane.  This was her message that he would not be getting out of bed any more.

She taught us to be perceptive and to look for the deeper message.  Her stories grabbed me, giving me a hearts desire to be able to have relationships that were meaningful and rich. I knew this would be a worthwhile work for my life’s mission.  I wanted to take this privilege and have meaningful intimate relationships with my fellowman, working to make others lives as good as possible.

Now, nearly 40 years later, my mission continues to be the same, from a nurse in home and hospice care to today as a PA in the inpatient palliative care team at UCH.   Here we step back to get to know the person and their family and  listen to what matters to them.  Which is the opposite approach of the more traditional hospital focus which is “what is the matter with them?”  This approach brings the humanity of the person to the front and allows us to build a relationship that is precious and at times, sacred.  The patient led palliative care conversations place dignity and control back in the lives of our patients, at a time when life may seem out of control.

After all these years and hundreds of patient lives, I can’t think of a better calling or privilege in life than to be able to do this work!


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