Elizabeth Voyles, RN, CPN, palliative care nurse coordinator at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, Mich. Voyles was the 2012 winner of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) Excellence in Clinical Practice Award, which recognizes excellence in pediatric nursing. She was also the 2010 winner of the Diseases Attacking the Immune System (DAISY) Award, which honors nurses who have provided exceptional and compassionate care to patients and their families.
Q. When did you decide to become a pediatric nurse specializing in palliative care?
A. I always loved science and kids, but I fell in love with pediatrics when I was doing my clinical rotation during nursing school. After that, I was hooked. When I graduated, I applied for a floor position at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and I’ve been working in pediatrics ever since.
I love my job – I’d even say it’s my dream job. My position is unique, as palliative care is a relatively new field of medicine. I work at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, but I also treat patients in the outpatient setting and in their homes. I even do telephone counseling and triaging with patients and their families.
We get all kinds of referrals and work with children at varying stages of their illness – patients who were just diagnosed, patients who have exhausted all treatment sources, patients still seeking curative treatment. We have some patients we’ve been taking care of since 2007, when our program started, and some patients we meet and only take care of them for a few hours or days. There’s a lot of variety in my job.
Q. What are some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working as a pediatric nurse?
A. I think the biggest challenge is also the biggest reward. In pediatrics, you have more than one patient – the child is your patient, of course, but the child’s family is your patient too. The challenge is that you spend a lot of time caring for and educating the family, which can really increase the patient load. However, working with families is also one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
Q. How do you handle the emotional aspect of working with such critically-ill children?
A. It is difficult. I always try to remember that I can’t take away the pain. I can’t take away the sorrow. But what I can do is hopefully take away the fear by educating the family about what to expect and what could possibly happen, and by giving them emotional support. I believe helping someone die can be as beautiful as helping someone be born.
There are days that I cry. And there are days when I feel like this is what I was meant to do. We have to be able to find the balance between being very present yet also be in the background at times to provide families the privacy that they need.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?
A. I think pediatric nursing is my calling. I love my job, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Additionally, nursing has provided me an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally, yet still be there for my family. The hours are flexible, so you can really carve out a perfect job. Over the years, I was able to flex my hours to reflect the different stages of my family’s life. Nursing allowed me to be able to work part-time, full–time or work midnight shifts so I could be home when my kids went to school.
Q. Why do you think the role of nurses is important for pediatric care?
A. I think nurses are often the most in-touch with the patient and their families. Nurses are the ones that are there, at the bedside, and can gain their trust. As nurses, we know it’s important to do the physical part of the care, but also understand that the emotional aspect of caring for a patient is equally as important.