Proactive nurses can play an important role in end-of-life care, new studies reveal.

A survey conducted by the California Healthcare Foundation found that nearly 80% of the end-of-life patients they surveyed would appreciate speaking with a physician about their end-of-life care, but only 7% said they had such a conversation.

Nursing experts say that nurses are uniquely positioned to fill this gap in end-of-life care planning since they often have the closest relationship with a patient.

“Nurses spend more time [with patients] and are often able to have more candid conversations with folks,” Kathy Brandt, senior vice president of the office of education and engagement at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, told the specialized outlet NurseZone.

In research published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, lead author Rebecca H. Lehto, RN, Ph.D., found that healthcare providers often focus too much on treatment and disease management. A nurse’s job is to help patients come to grips with the impact of the disease, and the possibility of death, on loved ones.

“Nurses, first of all, need to be a supportive, nonjudgmental presence,” she said. “Patients are making life decisions and sometimes are making death preparations. Nurses can provide patient education materials and offer support in managing life affairs.”