The "Lived Experience" of Nursing Faculty Following the Sudden Death of a Student

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Paulette Dorney, PhD
School of Nursing, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, USA

Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative research study is to explore the grief experiences and reactions of nursing faculty following the unanticipated, sudden death of a nursing student. According to the Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Nursing Practice, ”the baccalaureate generalist graduate nurse is “…prepared to engage in care of self in order to care for others” (AACN, 2008, p. 8). While nursing faculty teach students how to care for patients and their families at end of life, little is known about the impact of a student’s death on faculty. Nursing faculty serve as teachers, role models, coaches, and mentors not only in the classroom, but also in the clinical setting. The unique closeness of this relationship poses an additional challenge to both students and faculty when a classmate suddenly dies. Nurses by the pure nature of their discipline, are perceived as providers of compassionate and supportive care to the dying and bereaved. Society presumes nursing faculty are more prepared to cope with such a stressful and devastating event since they are indeed nurses themselves, however, gaps exist in the literature regarding what support is appropriate to offer by nursing faculty. Since little is known about this phenomenon, the following research question will guide this inquiry: What is the lived experience of nursing faculty following the sudden unanticipated death of a student?

Methods: The phenomenon of “the grief experience of nursing faculty following the sudden unanticipated death of a student ” lacks both exploration and description in nursing literature. An understanding of this experience has failed to be elucidated in nursing education, warranting a need to explore this understudied phenomenon. As Field and Morse (1985) stated, “qualitative methods should be used …when the research question pertains to understanding or describing a particular event about which little is known” (p.11). Phenomenology as a qualitative research method, seeks to describe and unfold a phenomenon before the eyes of the researcher and reader so the essence of the participant’s narratives can be experienced and understood (Munhall, 1994). This approach was the most suitable method of inquiry for studying the richness and complexity of bereavement. By utilizing the phenomenological method of inquiry rooted in Husserl’s philosophy and data analysis as described by Paul Colaizzi (1978), the researcher will obtain a full description and understanding of the essence of this experience.

Results: The source of qualitative data included a demographic questionnaire and in-depth interviews with each participant. Interviews were digitally recorded, and verbatim transcriptions were analyzed utilizing the seven-step Colaizzi’s (1978) method. Findings of this study support contemporary models of grief and bereavement. Researcher will explore the unique aspects of grief that emerged for nursing faculty. 

Conclusions: This study yields a rich understanding of the grief experience of nursing faculty, while providing insights for policy development and supportive interventions for students, faculty and college administrators.