Date of Award

7-24-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Nursing and Allied Health Professions

First Advisor

Elizabeth A. Palmer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kristy S. Chunta, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Nadene L’Amoreaux, Ph.D.

Abstract

Death is perhaps the most paramount loss an individual can experience. Many faculty, administrators, and students do not anticipate the sudden death of a student or classmate; however it is estimated that approximately 30 to 40 percent of college students experience the death of a family member or friend within two years on campus. Despite these astounding statistics, the topics of student death, grief, and bereavement are rarely discussed in faculty development workshops or addressed in nursing education journals. Much research has been devoted to end of life care among practicing nurses. Conversely, there is scant nursing research pertaining to the personal experiences and grief reactions following the loss of a friend or nursing classmate. The aim of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the grief experiences, coping strategies, and reactions of traditional college age baccalaureate nursing students following the unanticipated, sudden death of a classmate. Purposive sampling yielded nine participants from four universities who experienced the death of their classmate within the previous nine months. 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. Nine major themes emerged: (1) emotional pain of grief, (2) struggling with the reality of death, (3) void in life "empty desk", (4) university and departmental responsiveness, (5) connecting with the deceased, (6) bond of comfort and unity, (7) coping and support structures, (8) linger/dwell versus moving on, and (9) grief as a nurse. Findings of this study support contemporary models of grief and bereavement and previous research related to peer grief. However, unique aspects of grief emerged for the nursing student. The participants reflected on their emotional struggle with grief amidst the walls of academia, acknowledging they are in a helping profession and "we cannot even help one of our own." This study yielded a rich understanding of the grief experience of nursing students, while providing insights for policy development and supportive interventions for nursing faculty and college administrators.

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