Undergraduate Nursing Autopsy Perceptions: A Qualitative Study

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Emily Joanna Cannon, DNP, MSN, BSN
Renee Bauer, PhD
School of Nursing, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN, USA

Purpose: Because of the scant amount of literature regarding nursing students and their perceptions of autopsies, this qualitative study was conducted. A medical surgical nursing course at a mid-sized state university provides the opportunity for students to view autopsies every semester with a board-certified forensic pathologist. The autopsies are performed at a mid-sized hospital close to campus. Many of the students go on to become advanced practice nurses and require a solid foundation in anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology.

Methods: Qualitative study with 20 participants over a 9-month period. The approach was phenomenological. A Qualtrics survey was developed. The sample was a convenience sample of 18-21 year old students, mainly Caucasian, female, and in the first semester of their junior year. It is voluntary for the students to observe the autopsies. The university's Institutional Review Board has approved this study. Research was based on Illeris' theory and included perceptions of experiences and new knowledge formation. Illeris' theory has three dimensions: cognition, emotion, and society.

Results: Rich themes emerged regarding the students' experiences, both emotional, psychological, and knowledge-based. Students reported feeling personalization and empathy. Anxiety and apprehension was verbalized at the beginning of the autopsy, desensitization occured in later stages of the autopsies. The students were also very pleased with the amount of knowledge that they acquired during the autopsy regarding anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology. The majority of the students' results were positive.

Conclusion: Autopsies are important learning tools. Bias may be present as a result of waiting to fill out Qualtrics survey and discussing experience with peers. This study could be strengthened with a pre/post test and mixed method evaluation tool. The results may not be replicated related to coroner teaching ability. The authors used a convenience sample and were unable to capture a broad-range of gender and ethnicity. Anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology are important for students to understand as they learn about medical surgical nursing concepts. Students reported processing and debriefing activities were important after viewing autopsies.