What does a palliative care assistant do?

August 6, 2015

Palliative care assistants are dedicated to providing specialist end of life care and support to patients suffering from terminal illnesses such as cancer or other life-limiting health conditions. This support is extended to patients’ families who are also facing the dreaded prospect of the imminent death of their loved one.

As a palliative care assistant you may work in a wide range of settings including hospitals, hospices or patients’ homes.

Understanding your responsibilities in this role

Although palliative care comes under the umbrella of healthcare, it is completely different from any other healthcare specialty. While all healthcare fields focus on treating and curing patients, in palliative care the focus is on making sure terminally ill patients are as comfortable as possible during the last months or days of their lives.

Quality end-of-life care is highly specialised care and recognises the unique needs of a person who has a terminal condition as well as their family and carers. In most cases, these patients are in a lot of pain and your main responsibility would be to minimise the pain. For this you need to have extensive knowledge in training in pain management.

The key duties of a palliative care assistant include:

  • Helping patients manage their pain with the help of appropriate pain killers and other pain relieving techniques
  • Applying dressings to wounds
  • Changing catheters and other medical equipment that the patient requires
  • Ensuring that all devices and equipment are correctly cleaned and stored
  • Providing personal care such as help with washing, showering, toileting, dressing, eating and oral care
  • Monitoring the patient’s condition and informing the other health care practitioners who are also involved in their care
  • Providing emotional support to family and carers during the patient’s illness and after their death
  • Caring for the patient’s mortal remains after death


Most of the time, you will work alongside relevant specialist nurses and healthcare professionals, depending on what illness the patient is suffering from. Because comfort and pain management are the main aims of palliative care, the patient and their family members are important partners in creating a personalised care plan that works for them. You however will be instrumental in educating and guiding them with regards to probably effects of their decisions.

Essential attributes for this job

Excellent communication skills along with a friendly and caring personality are three of the most essential attributes for anyone considering a career as a palliative care assistant.

You will be dealing with people who are dying and know it so you also need to have a tremendous amount of tact, patience and empathy in order to handle the challenges of the job.

Other essential skills include the ability to relate to people from different cultures and backgrounds, respect for the individuality and confidentiality of patients, an in-depth understanding of palliative care needs and most importantly the emotional resilience to stay objective and positive despite knowing the tragic truth.

Being a palliative care giver can be emotionally draining as you know that no matter what you do, your patient is never going to get better. However, knowing that you are doing the best you can to help them remain comfortable and pain-free during the last few days of their life can be immensely rewarding.