Together as One | Shirley Zhu - OnePoint Patient Care

Together as One | Shirley Zhu

Our “Together as One” series spotlights nurses, physicians, pharmacists and others who positively impact the lives of hospice patients and their families every day. Through the dedicated and compassionate work of these inspiring professionals, patients receive the high-quality care and attentive consideration they deserve. Together with innovative and responsive hospice partners, they create the network of support so essential to hospice care. We invite you to meet the people behind the mission—and see what one can do.

Shirley Zhu

Suncrest Hospice

San Francisco, CA

What inspired you to become a nurse?

As cliché as it sounds, I became a nurse because I wanted a job where I could work with people and also have a sense of fulfillment. Thus, I chose nursing, because what better choice than a career in which the essence of the role is to serve others, with their well-being and safety as my top priority? So far, I haven’t been disappointed in my role as a nurse! I genuinely feel that each day, I am able to do a little bit of good for someone else!

How did you come to work in hospice specifically?

After graduating nursing school, I had no specific field I wanted to go into. After interviewing with several facilities, I ended up choosing to work in hospice because the environment at that company was supportive and warm. As I worked in hospice, I grew to love it more and more. One of my main goals when I decided to pursue nursing was to work with people during the most vulnerable times. In comparison to working in a hospital, hospice allows me more time at the bedside giving comfort to both the patients and their families at one of THE most vulnerable times in their lives: death and the loss of a loved one.

What has been your favorite or proudest moment as a nurse?

I always feel proud whenever families verbalize to me that I was able to make their experience of losing a loved one somewhat positive. I feel proud that I can make families feel comfortable and secure during such a scary time. Whenever a family member tells me I made them feel better, even if just a little, I always get that “ah, this is exactly where I am meant to be” type of feeling!

Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in hospice?

Please be patient and please never take anything personally. Some families or patients can be upset and angry because they aren’t ready to accept the fact that someone is dying. That’s okay–everyone reacts to things differently. Please stay patient and kind because families and patients will always come around. It’s a great feeling and sense of accomplishment when families or patients realize you are there to help them and start welcoming you with warm and open arms.

How do you keep from getting overwhelmed in your busy day-to-day?

A lot of people tell me that working in hospice must be tough because of all the death. Interestingly enough, I don’t feel that all the death has been overwhelming. I think it’s because I understand that when these patients come to me, they have exhausted their treatment options or they don’t want any more treatment, and the fact is, they are going to die. Whether or not I am here with them, they will pass away. Knowing that, I would much rather be with them and do everything in my power to make this as gentle of a loss as it could possibly be. Sometimes though, I get overwhelmed with my patient visiting schedule. Once in a while, I will feel rushed because I am thinking about all the other people I have to see or all the charting I haven’t finished yet. When that happens, I just take a deep breath and remind myself that this is just another day for me, but might be the last day for my patient. After reminding myself of that, I am able to slow down and provide quality care for each individual because my fear as a nurse is having regrets over the kind of patient care I provide. When I am able to center myself and remind myself of the bigger picture, things stop being overwhelming!

Have there been any patients or families that have been particularly memorable? How so?

I had an elderly woman with congestive heart failure. Her condition was so bad that her legs were super swollen with fluid weeping out, she couldn’t straighten her legs out, and she could barely talk without panting. Whenever I saw her, she would always be sitting at the kitchen table, she even slept there! She told me it was because she felt pain whenever she was moved, so she preferred to stay untouched and seated at the dining table. One day, her son called me to let me know that his mother had passed. When I arrived to do the death visit, the patient was already cleaned, changed into new clothes, and lying peacefully in her bed with stuffed animals surrounding her. The patient’s son had taken it upon himself to clean her up and move her from the dining table to her bedroom. I was very touched because this was the first time that a family member voluntarily did all those things instead of waiting for me to come to do them. It was also the first time I ever saw that particular patient in new clothes and lying in bed–she just looked so comfortable, clean, and lovely. I won’t forget that moment because it was so clear just how much love, time, care, and dedication her son took in caring for her after she passed. In his actions, his love was so evident and I was greatly moved.

Has your work influenced how you think about death? In what ways?

I view death in a more positive way now! In nursing school, we were always taught what to do to PREVENT death. We were taught how to make families comfortable, how to heal, and how to cure. However in reality, not everything can be cured and death will eventually come. Nursing studies always focused on promoting a high-quality life, but hospice taught me that a good death is just as important as a good life. I’ve had many patients who lived extraordinary lives, but when they were on their deathbeds, they rarely looked back on how great their lives were and could only talk about how miserable they were in that moment. I likened those experiences to this: when reading a book, the story can be amazing, but if the ending is disappointing, many people regret even reading the book in the first place. Endings of journeys are just as important as the beginnings. Thus in hospice, I try to make deaths peaceful, painless, and in their own way, warm, so patients and families won’t have to look back in regret.