Director of Palliative Care honored with Nightingale Award

Dearborn, MI— Christine Westphal, NP, director of Palliative Care Services (PRISM) for Oakwood Healthcare, said her job is about helping people on their individual life’s journey.

Westphal is well-suited for that; she has been nurse for nearly 40 years and said she always knew what direction her own life journey would take.

“I was one of those people who, ever since I was a little girl, knew I wanted to be a nurse,” said Westphal, who remembered her father carpooling with a neighbor who worked as a nurse when she was a child. “I just fell in love with taking care of people.”

A candy-striper when she turned 16, Westphal’s career has lasted longer than some of the hospitals she worked for, including Mt. Carmel and Sinai hospitals in Detroit. She also taught for eight years at Mercy College. Westphal came to Oakwood Healthcare 25 years ago as a nurse in the cardiac care and intensive care units. She was honored this week with a Nightingale Award for Nursing Excellence in the Advanced Nurse category.

As director of the Palliative Care department, she now leads a multidisciplinary team that provides a comprehensive care and management program that includes physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support to meet the needs of patients of all ages — and their families — suffering from serious or life-threatening illnesses.

“We’re working with patients and their families who are on their own unique journey in life,” she said. “We want to help people live as well as possible. It’s not necessarily making them physically better, but helping people find a sense of peace. Everyone is different and we support their goals in any way we can.”

This is the 25th year the Oakland University School of Nursing has presented the Nightingale Award for Nursing Excellence, which honors exemplary nurses and recognizes achievements within the nursing profession. Westphal, the recipient of many Everyday Hero awards from Oakwood as well as more than 50 handwritten thank you’s from patients and staff, said it was a very special recognition to receive.

“It’s very humbling. I’m very honored to be recognized,” she said.

She said her job can be heartbreaking and rewarding, and urges doctors and patients alike to communicate more openly, particularly regarding serious illnesses or end-of-life issues.

“People need to talk about these things much sooner so we can help them live as well as possible,” she said. “It’s about listening, reflecting and understanding. You can’t be afraid of letting people cry or getting angry and walking out. You have to wait. These are very complicated issues.”