Healthcare students may experience stress and anxiety when they encounter the dying process and death during clinical placements. Students are often young and culturally diverse, and may encounter death for the first time during clinical placements. A better understanding of students’ experiences of caring for dying patients is required to ensure effective education and support for students.
To explore the preparation and support needs for nursing and midwifery students who are exposed to death and dying during clinical placements.
Final year nursing and midwifery students from an Australian university were invited to complete an online questionnaire (“Formmelt Attitude Toward Care of the Dying Scale”, “Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale” and demographics) which assessed students’ emotional wellbeing and experiences of death and dying. Selected participants were also interviewed. Descriptive statistics report analysis of survey data and thematic analysis was used for interview data.
A total of 95 students completed the questionnaire and 20 interviews were conducted. The majority of participants (87%) encountered patient deaths during clinical placements and 87% of these agreed that caring for a dying person is a worthwhile experience. Students reported coping strategies which included debriefing with clinical educators and sharing experiences with other students. Students expressed the need for educational preparation and support from university lecturers and resources such as face-to-face debriefing at the university after the clinical placement.
Educational preparation for students who may be exposed to death and dying must begin before their first clinical placement. Students who encounter death and dying seek opportunities to discuss their experience in face-to-face debriefing sessions, rather than in an online support forum. Sensitive debriefing with lecturers and sharing experiences with peers are potentially effective strategies to enhance resilience and assist students to cope with caring for dying patients. Future research is recommended to develop formal mechanisms to support students.
Integrated educational preparation and support programs about death and dying prior, during and post clinical placements are recommended to meet the unique needs of undergraduate healthcare students.
This study is funded by a Monash Nursing and Midwifery Education Research Development Grant in 2019-2021.