She has carved out a specialized career caring for people with life-threatening respiratory illnesses, helping them manage the daily challenge of simply taking a breath so they can enjoy life as much as possible.

How did you discover your calling as a nurse?

My mother reminded me recently that when I was 4, I used to line up all my dolls and animals with bandages and a blackboard in front. I couldn’t decide whether to be a nurse or a teacher. Nurse? Teacher? Then one day, Mom tells me, my face lit up and I knew I would be a teacher of nurses.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

We offer an interprofessional palliative care course once a month where everyone is learning together – chaplains, physicians, nurses, social workers – and we co-teach the entire time. It’s exhausting and exhilarating, the most inspiring teaching I’ve ever done. The synergy of our different perspectives is what interprofessional work is all about. 

How did you develop your deep connection with respiratory illness?

I have the utmost compassion for people living with chronic lung diseases. Breathlessness is frightening. They have to manage very distressing symptoms, using inhalers and other equipment, and they need a lot of education and daily support. Most people who are breathless feel so stigmatized; I try to offer some extra love and kindness.

How do you approach your patients who are near the end of life?

Regardless of where my patients are in their life trajectory, I try to find out what’s important to them and how I can support them to live the life they want, within the context of their health or illness. That is what nurses do, from perinatal to palliative care. I’m very proud of being a nurse. 

DorAnne Donesky is a professor at the UCSF School of Nursing and the director of Interprofessional Palliative Care Education. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, preparing and drinking tea, reading, and travel. 

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