Alumni Spotlights

A Pioneer in Palliative Care

  • on November 3, 2020
  • by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
  • in

When Patrick Coyne, ’82, was a teenager, he was in a car accident that broke his leg and put him in traction for several weeks. During that time, he grew to appreciate the nurses who took care of him, an appreciation that led him to pursue a career as a nurse, himself.

Coyne, who worked as an orderly at Glover Memorial Hospital in his hometown of Needham, Mass., during his high school years, transferred into Niagara University’s College of Nursing after earning an associate’s degree in science. He selected Niagara because of its excellent nursing program, and because his father, William Coyne, ’50, was an alumnus and had always spoken highly of the education he received there.

Upon graduation, he returned to Needham to work at Glover Memorial for about a year before enrolling at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he obtained his master’s degree in 1984 in the science of nursing, with a clinical specialty in pain control.

Coyne’s post-graduation career included service in the Air Force from 1986 until 1991, during which he served in Desert Storm. He then joined the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond as a clinical nurse specialist for pain management, a position that intensified his focus in the field and earned him a Program of the Year award for the Acute Pain Service he founded within the hospital.

That program, which offered several pain control techniques and facilitated training for other disciplines in all aspects of pain and pain control, evolved into the Thomas Palliative Care Program at the Medical College’s Massey Cancer Center, one of the first in a field that was fairly new. Coyne served as clinical director. 

Although his program focused on pain management, Coyne discovered that his cancer patients suffered from other ailments, including nausea, anxiety, and shortness of breath. He also found that these illnesses affected family members as well as the patients. In trying to make life better for his patients, he began to develop support systems that included professionals in a number of fields.

 “You need really well-trained doctors and nurses who know good pain and symptom management,” he said, “and you need support service system for families: social workers, chaplains.”

For 24 years, Coyne led that palliative program, earning numerous awards for both the program and his leadership of it. He also continued his work as a clinical nurse specialist, was a member of Virginia Commonwealth University’s nursing and medical faculty, and served on the boards for the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center. 

In 2015, Coyne was offered a job as a clinical nurse specialist, assistant professor, and director for palliative care at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Interested in taking on one more career challenge, he accepted the offer. Today, he oversees and works with an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals in providing exceptional palliative care for a program he developed, which includes a pediatric telehealth and an outpatient component. He is also a co-primary investigator on several grants focused on educating rural and community advanced practice registered nurses and health providers on primary palliative care.

“We’re starting a telehealth system so that underserved rural areas in South Carolina can get consults wherever they live,” he said. “It’s going to be important that we can get the small rural hospitals healthcare systems throughout the state of South Carolina.”

Coyne is also a prolific author and researcher on palliative care, and has published more than a hundred articles and chapters and conducted numerous research studies. He has served as a member of several organizations, presents around the world, and remains active in legislative issues related to pain and symptom management. 

His work has helped to elevate the field to where it is getting recognized as its own specialty. 

“There’s now certifications and fellowships for doctors and nurses,” he said. “That speaks well to the field. I think hospitals are realizing (palliative care) is required now to be a good hospital or health system.” 

He has also helped to bring the specialty to areas such as Africa, Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Central America through his volunteer work with American Medical Teams for Africa Inc. and End of Life Nursing Education Consortium, a national and international education initiative to improve palliative care which he helped to establish. 

He is especially proud of the work he has done in Tanzania. He spent about six weeks in that country, seeing patients and determining ways to obtain pain medicine.

 “They’re pretty self-sufficient now,” he said. “It gives me great satisfaction watching a country that really evolved over the last few decades.” 

Coyne’s passion for palliative care was matched by that of his first wife, Ellie, who was a volunteer coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina at the time of her death in a car accident. To honor her, Coyne established Ellie Coyne Memorial Fund for Palliative Care, which has benefitted students at Niagara University. He also directed support to a palliative care program in a pediatric unit in a hospital in Kenya that is named for her. 

As a pioneer for palliative care, Coyne has advocated for patients across the country and around the world to “have their questions answered and find something to enjoy every day,” he said. “I would like to think I’ve made a big difference.”