Palliative Care Profile: Consult nurse Martha Ferguson (Underwood) reflects on being 'part of such a fragile part of a person’s life'

Palliative care consult nurse Martha Ferguson.
Palliative care consult nurse, Martha Ferguson (NSHA).

Martha Ferguson (Underwood) remembers her grandmother, a registered nurse, providing end-of-life care to community members in her Tatamagouche home. Today, Ferguson lives in that same home and works as a palliative care consult nurse serving residents of Cumberland and Colchester counties. 

“Wherever the patient is, that’s where I am,” said Ferguson, who cares for patients and their families in their homes, hospital, and long-term or residential care facilities. 

Ferguson, who joined the local palliative care team when it was formed in 1999, provides pain and symptom management, helps patients with side effects of treatment ,and helps find appropriate levels of care. Ferguson partners with colleagues in social work, occupational and physiotherapy, spiritual care, cancer patient navigation, radiation, chemotherapy and long-term care. She also works with her co-workers on the palliative care team and local hospitals to help address financial, social, emotional and spiritual needs along with the physical needs of her patients. 

In all of her interactions with patients and families, she remembers what she learned from her grandmother about “…the importance of being present. A person’s illness is such a small part of who they are.”

Ferguson said some people have misconceptions about palliative care.

“It’s not just pain management. It’s all about symptom support and the palliative approach to care. The earlier a patient is referred, the better I can know that patient and really be that support to them and their family or find the supports they need. It may be that I come and go in a person’s life.”

People often think of palliative care as being for people with cancer or final days of life, she said, when in fact a palliative approach to care can benefit anyone with a life-limiting illness at any point.

As Ferguson reflected on her role, she said the greatest reward is “being able to be part of such a fragile part of a person’s life and the family’s life and being able to help.” 

For more information about palliative care, please visit www.nshealth.ca/service-details/Palliative%20Care