Baccalaureate Nursing Students’ Perceptions Regarding Autopsy Experiences

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Since 2012, a medical–surgical nursing course at a midsized state university has provided the opportunity for students to view autopsies with a board-certified forensic pathologist. The autopsies are performed at a midsized hospital relatively close to the campus. The purpose of this study was to discover nursing students’ perceptions that emerged during the autopsy experience.


A convenience sample of 23 baccalaureate nursing students took part in the autopsy experience over a 4-month period. Archival data from an online, anonymous questionnaire, completed after the experience, were reviewed and subjected to qualitative analysis. This study was approved by the university’s institutional review board.


Rich data emerged regarding the students’ experiences, including emotional, psychological, and knowledge-based perceptions.


Autopsies are important learning tools for nursing students, especially those who go into advanced practice nursing and forensic nursing. Anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology are essential for students to understand as they learn about medical–surgical nursing concepts. Unique emotional characteristics of the students and cause of death of the deceased influenced how some students viewed the autopsy experience. Students reported that processing and debriefing activities were important after viewing autopsies and should be encouraged.

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