My Patient Died: A National Study of Nursing Students' Perceptions after Experiencing a Patient Death
Heise, Barbara A.
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Session presented on: Friday, April 4, 2014: Death is an emotionally charged and high stress situation for everyone. The majority of nurses will experience the death of a patient. Nursing students also encounter death and dying while in their clinical settings. Debriefing after high fidelity simulations of patient demise occurs routinely and are efficacious. Yet, pilot study data (N=33) revealed that in real-life clinical settings nursing students often do not receive debriefing despite students classifying the experience as traumatic. The purpose of this national study was to determine the following: 1) the prevalence of a patient death during a student's nursing education; 2) nursing student's perceptions of their first death; 3) nursing student's perceptions of their preparation to handle the death of a patient; and 4) how might nurse educators support the student through this experience. Methods: The design is a descriptive mixed methods study. Undergraduate nursing students who are members of the National Student Nurse Association (NSNA) (55,000 members) were recruited via email. Results: Of the 2794 (5%) nursing students who replied to the survey, 41% had experienced a patient death while a nursing student. Many expressed distress during and following the experience as well as a sense of feeling unprepared in communicating with and caring for the dying patient and the patient's family. Of those who had experienced a death, 66% reported that they did not receive any debriefing. Implications: Most nursing students do not feel prepared to work with dying patients and their families. The majority of nursing students who have experienced a patient death do not receive debriefing. Conclusions: It is essential that students receive adequate support and debriefing following the death of their patient. Nurse educators, particularly clinical instructors, need to routinely include debriefing strategies and may need education on how to debrief students following the death of a patient.