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USA Today: "Nurse dispenses dignity to dying"

December 30, 2003 -- Today USA Today ran a generally good story by Kim Painter about Virginia home hospice nurse Kathy McLaughlin.

The article explains that hospice nurses care for patients who are probably nearing the end of their lives, and most of the piece consists of descriptions of McLaughlin's work as she visits and cares for patients with the chromosomal disorder Trisomy 18, Alzheimer's and breast cancer. The story also tells how McLaughlin copes with the daunting nature of a job that involves constant work with the dying. It explains that McLaughlin got into the field after working in geriatric wards, where she liked the patients but "saw too many people who died in pain, away from home and hooked up to needless machines." As a hospice nurse, she helps people avoid that, stating: "I know I'm making a difference."

The piece does a good job conveying the human bond McLaughlin forms with her patients, and also the autonomous nature of her work, in which she conveys her professional judgments to the "doctors, social workers and other professionals who make up each patient's care team." Like so many other pieces about nurses, this one does focus less on the serious technical skills required to do the work, which involves complex assessments and decisions about very sick patients' conditions and medications. The story's final section, about McLaughlin's fruitless search through the breast cancer patient's house for the patient's pills, ends with nurse and patient laughing, and the author noting: "It was another good day, another good moment."

See Kim Painter's article "Nurse dispenses dignity to dying" in the USA Today.