Minnesota Nursing magazine

The feeling is mutual

Barb Schlaefer

Liaschenko and Song
Joan Liaschenko, PhD, RN, FAAN, and John Song, MD, MPH, MAT

Joan Liaschenko, PhD, RN, FAAN, is called upon often to support patients, families and health care teams as they navigate complex and emotionally-charged decisions about care.

As director of the Ethics Consultation Service for the University of Minnesota Medical Center, she relies heavily on the expertise and perspectives of colleagues from multiple disciplines.

John Song, MD, MPH, MAT, she said, is among her most trusted and valued partners. “This work can be extremely difficult and emotionally wrenching,” said Song, an associate professor in the Center for Bioethics and the U of M School of Medicine. “It is essential that the deliberation represent a wide range of values, knowledge and experiences. And it is probably the case that the differences are most stark between nurses and physicians, so it is especially crucial to have the input of both given their often disparate concerns and responsibilities.”

With adjoining offices, Liaschenko and Song have the opportunity to talk through ethical aspects of hospital cases that often involve end-of-life care, family discord or decisions in which the patient’s capacity to participate may be compromised. “John is an extraordinary person who is not burdened by a hierarchy in which the physician is at the top and the nurse is somewhere toward the bottom,” said Liaschenko, who is a professor at the School of Nursing and the Center for Bioethics. “He and I recognize the valuable perspectives brought by all members of the health care team including nurses at the bedside, care coordinators, social workers, chaplains, therapists, anyone involved.”

The Ethics Consultation Service is on call around the clock to enlighten and inform hospital staff, patients and their families of options and provide guidance as they navigate the most challenging dilemmas. One case, for example, involved an organ donor who was prepped for surgery who had just learned she was pregnant. The decision of whether to continue with the surgery was not clear.

Both Liaschenko and Song bring a vast array of educational and life experiences to this work. Their mutual respect for one another is clear. “Joan brings so many different perspectives, is so well read, smart and brings important nursing and feminist concerns,” said Song. “She can also interpret the primary physician perspective to others on the care team. I have learned so much from her.”

Liaschenko believes this type of work must be done with a spirit of collaboration and said Song is an ideal partner. “John recognizes what each person on the team contributes,” she said. “He is a kind, thoughtful person with a keen ability to collaborate and explore options with me and others.”