Student nurses feel unprepared when faced with patients at the end of life

Categories: Research.

Scientists from the Sahlgrenska Academy interviewed 222 nursing students on their thoughts about caring for dying patients, their ideas about how to support and meet the patient in dialogue, and their own feelings when faced with dying patients.

The interviews showed that even though many students view death as a natural part of life, many find the idea of death to be frightening, and beyond understanding.

“Death awakens feelings of helplessness, insecurity and insufficiency in most nursing students. Some find it natural to talk about death, while others consider it to be the worst thing that can happen and have difficulty coping with the need to talk about it,” says Susann Strang, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

Many students described how they did not know how to answer the patients’ questions, and desired to change the subject when patients brought death up. At the same time, a large fraction of the students consider it to be the responsibility of nurses to appear strong in front of patients.

Strang adds: “Our study shows that the students have an ideal of a competent nurse and perfect care that differs significantly from the actual situation. The issues of death and dying have much to do with the students’ own fear and lack of experience, while at the same time they place high demands on themselves to be good caregivers.

“Many hope that this will become easier with time, and that one day they will have the courage required to care for dying patients and dare to engage with them. Nurse education can play a more active role here by discovering at an early stage which students experience strong anxiety about meeting and caring for dying patients, and offering these students guidance, training and support.”

The article ‘Swedish nursing students’ reasoning about emotionally demanding issues in caring for dying patients’ will be published in the International Journal of Palliative Nursing. You can also read more on the Sahlgrenska Academy website.

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