Passing With Grace and Dignity: Nursing Professor Honored for Her Work in Hospice Care
Making sure the seriously ill have the chance to communicate their final messages to loved ones, share their feelings and mend family relationships has been the primary focus of Dana Hansen’s career as a hospice nurse.
Hansen, Ph.D., an associate professor in Kent State University’s College of Nursing, recently was named a Fellow in Palliative Care Nursing, an honor that reflects her years of work and research in the field of end-of-life care for the seriously ill and their families.
Hansen, who also serves as co-director of the doctorate program and co-coordinator of the honors program in the College of Nursing, received the designation by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA). A member of the College of Nursing faculty since 2013, Hansen has been a member of the HPNA for many years.
“It really is a recognition of my contribution to the field of hospice and palliative care nursing,” she said. “I have been a hospice nurse for a very long time. That has been a passion of mine.”
The designation of fellow is bestowed on HPNA members who have made significant contributions to the organization, while also impacting the field of hospice and palliative nursing. According to information from the nursing organization: “This privilege recognizes leadership and a visionary spirit. HPNA Fellows are nurses who have promoted and advanced both the specialty of hospice and palliative nursing and the mission of HPNA. Their involvement with HPNA has strengthened the organization, benefitted our members, and forged a path for our growth.”
“The College of Nursing is so pleased to see Dr. Hansen receive this important designation. Her years of research and work in the field of hospice and palliative care nursing make her most deserving of the Fellow designation,” said Versie Johnson-Mallard, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing and Henderson Endowed Chair, “Her expertise in this area gives our nursing students a deeper understand of the end-of-life process and prepares them well for the real-life situations they will encounter in their careers.”
A Wisconsin native, Hansen entered hospice nursing early in her career and has worked to positively impact the care of the dying, those with advanced serious illness and their families.
The focus of her research has been on family relationships at end of life.
“I loved being with families and patients during this incredibly difficult time, which is also a very special time in terms of family relationships. It is a time for final conversations. Not all deaths result in that ability,” she said. “It’s an important time as some relationships are difficult and need healing and mending. It is helping patients achieve a peaceful death and their families to have the critical conversations to make that happen.”
The communication component, Hansen said, is so important.
At Kent State, Hansen has worked to embed palliative care nursing skills into courses, including the live nursing simulation lab, in which students from Kent State’s School of Theater and Dance play the roles of the dying person and their family members using scripts that Hansen has helped to craft. The scenarios offer nursing students the opportunity to interact and to practice their communication skills in situations they may face while on the job.
“I try to embed end-of-life communication in everything that I teach,” she said.
Critical messages include expressing love, religious and spiritual messages, healing difficult family relationships. Even discussions on funeral plans are important conversations that palliative care nurses can help to facilitate.
Future research projects for Hansen include studies on how COVID-19 affected grief for families who were not able to have those important final conversations. “There has been research on this idea of pandemic grief and how is it different, unique and more intense than traditional grief,” Hansen said.
She also is working with the Wick Poetry Center to use its Healing Stanzas program as a means of intervention for those who were denied their final goodbyes due to COVID-19, and using the Healing Stanzas in hospitals, with the idea of expressive writing used as a healing intervention.
The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association, established in 1986, is the national professional organization that represents the specialty of palliative nursing. HPNA is dedicated to advancing expert care in serious illness through education, leadership development, advocacy and research on behalf of its hospice and palliative care nurse members.