Passing Away: An Exploratory Study into Physiotherapy Students' Experiences of Patient Death whilst on Clinical Placement
Keywords:placements, physiotherapy, death, coping, ‘emotional distress
Objectives: Physiotherapy students returning to university following clinical placement commonly reported encountering patient death and often appeared traumatised by the experience. This exploratory study focuses on three main areas: students' experiences of patient death, their feelings and how they coped.
Design: A qualitative research design utilised focus groups to explore students’ experiences of patient death. Sessions were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and underwent independent thematic analysis by the authors. Categories and themes were then agreed.
Participants: Two consecutive final year cohorts were invited to participate in this qualitative study. This resulted in a purposive sample of 15 Physiotherapy students.
Findings: Five overlapping themes emerged: emotional distress, contrasts in reactions, desire to respond professionally, coping strategies and contextual risk factors. Students reported not only descriptions of the patient’s death but also the perceived contrast between their reactions and those of experienced staff. The latter were described as ‘insensitive’ and ‘blasé’. This contrast resulted in a breakdown in communication and a suppression of students’ reactions as they did not want to appear ‘silly’ or ‘unprofessional’.
There is increasing recognition that effective management of patient death is an important part of health care. This study suggests that if placement is to be an effective learning environment for this aspect of practice then established healthcare professionals and educators need to be positive role models. Without this the values and skills that are necessary for providing quality end-of-life care may struggle to develop, as well as the culture of openness and transparency that is essential so that students no longer feel they have to hide their emotional distress.
Originally published by The Higher Education Academy
PBLH, Vol 2, Issue 1 (January 2014)
How to Cite
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons License "Attribution-NonCommercial No Derivs 4.0 International" (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) which permits others to use the publication as long as the authors are appropriately cited.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).
- The Author grants to Coventry University an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide, non-exclusive licence to publish this article in this journal in addition to the licence granted at paragraph 1 of this copyright notice.