Feb. 16, 2022

Drawn to hospice nursing, alumna makes a difference in end-of-life care for patients

Eyes High doctoral scholar Jennifer Dorman, BA’04, BN’07 talks about her nursing school memories and how she got into palliative care
Jennifer Dorman, BA’04, BN’07
Jennifer Dorman, BA’04, BN’07

Registered nurse Jennifer Dorman says she always had a feeling she’d return back to school one day. So it’s no surprise that on her first day of graduate school orientation, she made the decision to pursue her full PhD. Currently, she’s a post-candidacy doctoral student at UCalgary Nursing and is the secretary of the UCalgary Nursing Alumni Committee. Prior to that, her nursing career took her through paediatrics, adult and paediatric hospice palliative care, and she also worked as a healthcare consultant for MyHealth Alberta.

Her doctoral research focuses on how medical assistance in dying (MAiD) has impacted hospice palliative care nurses. Previous research has examined nurses more generally, but there is a gap in examining how hospice nurses experience this new procedure given underlying tensions between hospice palliative care philosophy and the goals of MAiD. Dorman has recently completed interviews with hospice nurses and is delving into thematic analysis.

What is it about being a nurse/your role that keeps you going?
“When I was nursing at the bedside in adult hospice, I admitted a patient and they ended up being with us for a longer time than expected. I got along very well with them, and the patient always asked the nurses how we were doing. When that patient eventually began to decline and was actively dying, their partner stopped me in the hall and confided that they hoped I would be the nurse on when the patient died. Knowing that I can make that kind of difference for someone at the end-of-life keeps me doing what I'm doing.”

Your best memory from UCalgary Nursing?
“We were doing a presentation and needed a picture that showed nurses being compassionate. I ended up sitting down and caring for our manikin, Jared, and our group snapped a picture. It remains one of my favourite nursing pictures to date.”

Jennifer Dorman with manikin.

Jennifer Dorman in nursing program at UCalgary Nursing with manikin Jared.

What did you do in your spare time during your nursing program?
“I was in the fledgling BNAT program, an accelerated after-degree course of study that resulted in a BN in 18 months. Honestly, it was a whirlwind and I don't remember a lot of down time, but it was so worth it. I do remember a few of us sneaking into the grad lounge several times for drinks and socializing.”

Your greatest extravagance?

“I once dropped over $400 on a limited edition, out-of-print book that examined rituals around post-mortem photography in the 1800s and discussed the significance of the practice at end-of-life today."

A dream yet to fulfill
“I'd love to be a fiction writer and get a book published. I typically tend to write horror, supernatural, or urban fantasy, and always somehow manage to work in a character with healing abilities. I think my nursing background keeps seeping in.”

Your motto?
“I don't know if it could be counted as a motto, but I always loved these lines from the poem Saltwater by Finn Butler:

Nothing is infinite, not even loss.
You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day
you are going to find yourself again.”

When were you happiest, and where?
“I love hiking and being out in nature. I have two places that I absolutely adore. The first is the Valley of the Ten Peaks. There's a curve in the road where the valley opens up and the mountains are all of a sudden just there - it's breathtaking. Looking down on the ten peaks from Larch Valley or Sentinel Pass is also amazing. The other place is Helen Lake: beautiful meadows, a blue-green mountain tarn, and it was the first hike I ever did solo.”

Anything you’d rather be doing right now?
“Sitting on a nice warm beach with a book in one hand and a mimosa in the other. Or swimming in the ocean. Really, anywhere warm and sunny with nearby water would work.”

Any advice to share with new grads?
“Nursing is so full of opportunity. If there is an area you're interested in, go for it! I always wanted to work in hospice, and it turned out great for me. Don't worry if you don't find a good fit right away - some of the most interesting collaborations I've ended up doing were through volunteering or school, or moving into nursing focuses that were completely different from where I'd been.”

If you’re a graduate of UCalgary Nursing and would like to share your journey since graduation, fill out this easy online form to tell us where you are now.