Facing death, facing self: nursing students' emotional reactions during an experiential workshop on life-and-death issues

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Aim and objectives.This study presents the findings of a qualitative study exploring the experiences of undergraduate nursing students imagining the possibility of their own death during a workshop on life-and-death issues.Background.Didactic instruction in end-of-life care is a critical element of nursing education and for most health professions training in general. Properly implementing this often-overlooked educational process requires providing students with opportunities to reflect on death and dying along with guidance during nursing practice in coping with emotional reactions to caring for dying patients.Design.An interpretive descriptive design was adopted.Method.Data were gathered from the text of 20 students' reflective journals and workshop evaluations and researchers' field notes on observations during the workshop at a Taiwan university in August 2007.Results.Students experienced a process of dying, death and rebirth. Students not only expressed emotional responses that included surprise, reluctance to let go and gratitude but also realised the importance of cherishing the present, committing to the nursing profession and valuing their own lives.Conclusions.Students can learn their fear of death and possible emotional reactions towards dying patients through self-reflection during a workshop on life-and-death issues. The foundation for facilitating students' self-awareness is a safe environment for them to gain experiential knowledge of the dying process and end-of-life care. Experiential education not only helps students grow personally but also increases their motivation to learn.Relevance to clinical practice.Students' ability to recognise and manage their own emotional reactions towards death and dying patients should be included as part of end-of-life education. A workshop on life-and-death issues can help students discover that they are not alone and that they can support each other and learn how to manage their own emotions.

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