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An Experiential Learning Approach to Primary Palliative Care Nursing Education

The Comfort Shawl Project

Glover, Toni L. PhD, GNP-BC, ACHPN; Horgas, Ann L. PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN; Castleman, Joan MS, RN, CTTS; Turpening, Paula MN, ANP-BC, ACHPN; Kittelson, Sheri MD

Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing: December 2017 - Volume 19 - Issue 6 - p 534–538
doi: 10.1097/NJH.0000000000000381
Feature Articles

The need for palliative care is growing along with a rapidly aging population. To meet this need, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing developed palliative care competencies that all nurses should achieve before graduation. Many of these competencies rely on direct experience in caring for patients facing serious illness, leading to an increased emphasis on experiential learning in nursing curricula. Experiential learning is the process of creating knowledge through transformative experiences outside the traditional classroom setting. The Comfort Shawl Project is a service learning project that provides senior nursing students with a yearlong immersion in palliative care. Experiential learning activities include attending the interdisciplinary palliative care team meeting, gifting handcrafted shawls to patients, writing reflections, participating in extracurricular events, and sharing the impact of the project through written papers and presentations. The project has been successful in helping nursing students achieve palliative care competencies, including communicating effectively and compassionately with patients and families and recognizing one’s own beliefs about serious illness and death. This project addresses the need to achieve primary palliative care competencies for nursing students. Clinical experiences in palliative care are vital to supplementing didactic learning, and this project could be replicated in a variety of academic settings.

Toni L. Glover, PhD, GNP-BC, ACHPN, is assistant professor, Department of Biobehavioral Nursing Science, College of Nursing, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Ann L. Horgas, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, is associate professor, Department of Biobehavioral Nursing Science, College of Nursing, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Joan Castleman, MS, RN, CTTS, is clinical associate professor, Department of Family, Community, and Health System Science, College of Nursing, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Paula Turpening, MN, ANP-BC, ACHPN, is palliative care nurse practitioner, Palliative and Supportive Care Consult Service, University of Florida Health Shands, Gainesville.

Sheri Kittelson, MD, is assistant professor and chief, Division of Palliative Care, College of Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Address correspondence to Toni L. Glover, PhD, GNP-BC, ACHPN, PO Box 100197, 1225 Center Dr, Gainesville, FL 32610-0197 (

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. T.L.G. received support from the University of Florida College of Nursing in the form of protected research time for early-stage investigators to develop and oversee the Comfort Shawl Project. A University of Florida Foundation account was established for private, individual financial donations to the Comfort Shawl Project, with funds used to support purchase of materials (labels and yarn) and educational activities.

© 2017 by The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.