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Day in the Life from Palliative Care Nurse Team Leader Christina van der Zande

SummerRosenbalmSummerRosenbalm Medical Staffing ManagerPosts: 33 - Current Staff

Interested in serving as a Palliative Care Nurse with Mercy Ships? Check out this Q&A session with Christina van der Zande, the Palliative Care Nurse Team Leader on board the Africa Mercy!

Christina is from the Netherlands and has served as the Palliative Care Nurse Team Leader since March 2017.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: The palliative care team spends time with patients with life threatening diagnoses by providing them symptom management and psychosocial care. Our palliative care team currently consists of myself as Palliative Care Nurse Team Leader, one or two other Palliative Care Nurses, and our local translator/driver/cultural guide.

Most of our patients have cancer. Sometimes they have HIV, or hydrocephalus. We will call patients from time to time, keep track of their medications, and treat wounds. We travel to their homes and spend about an hour or so with each patient. I’d say that the farthest we travel is about an hour from the ship and we usually have a Day Crew member drive us. 

Another part of our job is that we connect with local health workers who are doing palliative care or are interested in the subject. Depending on their level of knowledge, we might raise awareness, teach, mentor or cooperate. We might spend time on the ship, to develop materials, or join those teams in their patient care to observe, learn, and advise.

Q: What is your favorite part of your role?

A: I really enjoy the connections I make with the patients. For a while, they sometimes even forget their disease. I also really enjoy visiting their homes, and experiencing glimpses of the local life.

Q: Is there any part of your role that may be surprising for someone to learn?

A: We sometimes provide food and income generation support for our patients and their families, if they are in a dire financial situation. The Mercy Ships’ team buys staple foods every other week for the patient and their families until the patient passes (or a little after). And/or the team can counsel the family on strategies on getting them on their feet again. If the team finds the family is confident in their plan and motivated to put in their effort, they can support the family by buying some goods to start the business.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your role?

A: Sometimes it’s hard to see people dying of diseases that could have been cured in other places of the world if it had been caught sooner.

Q: What advice would you give someone considering volunteering in Palliative Care?

A: I would recommend reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier. I would also tell them that our patients are in God’s hands, so remember that you should not burden yourself too much with worries about their situations.

Q: What do you wish you had known before arriving on the ship?

A: I wish I had known how our presence is sometimes the best medicine. 

Q: Have you learned anything new in this role that will benefit you in the future?

A: I became aware of a lot of (unconscious) prejudices in myself and have been able to unlearn much of them by being confronted how the realities of daily life in the different countries in Africa are so much more complex and faceted than the generalizations I learned in school or in the media.

I also learned to think outside the box, to work with minimal resources and to deal with all the different cultures, customs and spiritual differences in the ship community and in the houses we visit.

Q: Every role plays an important function. How do you see your role supporting our overall mission?

A: It is great to be able to show that Hope and Healing is not only available through reconstructive surgery. Hope and Healing can be given in the face of death, in the attention to the physical, emotional, spiritual and social aspects of life. 

Have any questions about this role? Post them below!

Summer Rosenbalm

Medical Staffing Manager


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