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Medical students writing on death, dying and palliative care : a qualitative analysis of reflective essays

Boland, Jason W.; Dikomitis, Lisa; Gadoud, Amy

Authors

Jason W Boland

Amy Gadoud

Abstract

Background: Medical students and doctors are becoming better prepared to care for patients with palliative care needs and support patients at the end of life. This preparation needs to start at medical school. Objective: To assess how medical students learn about death, dying and palliative care during a clinical placement using reflective essays and to provide insights to improve medical education about end of life care and/or palliative care. Methods: Qualitative study in which all reflective essays written by third year medical students in one year from a UK medical school were searched electronically for those that included ‘death’, ‘dying’ and ‘palliative care’. The anonymised data were managed using QSR NVivo 10 software, and a systematic analysis was conducted in three distinct phases: (1) open coding; (2) axial coding and (3) selective coding. Ethical approval was received. Results: Fifty-four essays met the inclusion criteria from 241 essays screened for the terms ‘death’, ‘dying’ or ‘palliative’, 22 students gave consent for participation and their 24 essays were included. Saturation of themes was reached. Three overarching themes were identified: emotions, empathy, and experiential and reflective learning. Students emphasised trying to develop a balance between showing empathy and their emotional state. Students learned a lot from clinical encounters and watching doctors manage difficult situations, as well as from their refection during and after the experience. Conclusions: Reflective essays give insights into the way students learn about death, dying and palliative care and how it affects them personally as well as the preparation that is needed to be better equipped to deal with these kinds of experiences. Analysis of the essays enabled the proposal of new strategies to help make them more effective learning tools and to optimise students’ learning from a palliative care attachment.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 2, 2016
Journal BMJ supportive and palliative care
Print ISSN 2045-435X
Electronic ISSN 2045-4368
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 4
Pages 486-492
DOI https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjspcare-2016-001110
Keywords Medical students; Education; Reflection; Dying; Death; Palliative care
Publisher URL http://spcare.bmj.com/content/early/2016/08/02/bmjspcare-2016-001110
Copyright Statement ©2016 University of Hull

Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: BMJ supportive and palliative care, 2016, v.6, issue 4.
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: BMJ supportive and palliative care, 2016, v.6, issue 4.

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