Meet the nurse and vet working to harness the power of pets across palliative care | HerCanberra

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Meet the nurse and vet working to harness the power of pets across palliative care

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It’s a special breed of individual that dedicates themselves to a caring profession.

Eleanor Brace has taken that dedication to the next level – committed to caring for both people and pets, she works as a registered nurse at the Canberra Hospital and treats animals as an emergency veterinarian in Canberra’s north.

Now she wants to explore whether the bond people have with their pets can be brought into a hospital setting to enhance care and wellbeing.

Eleanor will bring together her lived experiences caring for both animals and people, to investigate how pets can become better integrated into palliative care, providing comfort to those with a life-limiting illness.

Eleanor’s role as a vet came first, when she practised in the United Kingdom, before coming to Canberra in 2015.

Her science background and an inherent desire to advocate for the wellbeing of others led Eleanor to apply to study for a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Canberra (UC). She graduated in March this year, and is now undertaking part-time postgraduate studies.

Her time as a nursing student, when she did a clinical placement with a palliative care provider, sparked the idea for her Honours research project.

“Pets were allowed to visit owners to provide comfort in their final days, which was wonderful to see. To be able to extend that to hospital patients receiving palliative care would be an incredible outcome,” she says.

“It wouldn’t need to be on a ward, but in some kind of designated area where it’s encouraged. Because it is achievable, and you would see the joy that pets bring, it can have the same effect as having other family members visiting.”

Right now, Eleanor is working with her Honours supervisor to develop an open response survey in order to find out more about the bond people have with their pets. Participants will be asked about the kinds of support pets may provide that are different from support received by friends and relatives.

“This will hopefully allow us to investigate how pets make a difference to our wellbeing and how we can facilitate that within the realms of palliative care in a hospital setting,” she says.

Eleanor and her dogs.

Eleanor has seen firsthand how pets become “part of the family” – and for some people, the companion they need most in challenging times.

“Witnessing that bond between people and their pets through routine visits, to being faced with making difficult decisions about tests and treatments, made me realise how much we value the comfort we receive from our pets at all stages of life,” Eleanor says.

Using further study opportunities to drive change in healthcare is a testament to Eleanor’s passion to continue on a career path where caring is at the heart of what she does – whether patients have two legs, four … or more.

“I think all vets go through a lot to even graduate – it’s a tough industry and it’s important to me to remain committed to the profession, and I’m grateful to now be delivering emergency care.

“The same goes for being a nurse. Nurses work hard and tend to have a ‘just get on and do it’ approach, accepting people for who they are, and it’s a privilege to be part of people’s lives at a time when they need care and support.”

As Eleanor juggles the reality of working two jobs and getting through an Honours degree, her own pets also get her through challenging times.

“My husband and I have two dogs. Kea is from the RSPCA and we’ve had her for a few years, then last year we adopted Tui from ACT Rescue and Foster (ARF),” she says.

“The best thing about them is that however busy or stressful a day has been, they always greet me with a tail wag and a smile.

“It’s also great getting out for a walk with them – fresh air, sunshine, being outdoors – and it’s an enforced break from work or study for me!”

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