Nursing studies

‘We want to take the fear out of giving end of life care’

Two students have developed a training module to allay the concerns of first-years

Two students have developed a training module to allay the concerns of first-years

Rachael Lambe and Ellen Soutter

For nursing students, caring for patients who are at the end of their life can be emotionally challenging.

‘A lot of students feel they have to put on a brave face because that’s what’s expected of you as a healthcare professional,’ says Rachael Lambe, who is in the final year of her adult nursing degree at the University of Chester. ‘But when you’re dealing with someone who is dying, no matter how experienced you are, it’s never going to be easy.’

Yet nursing courses offer little in the way of specific end of life training, leaving many students feeling out of their depth. ‘It’s not just our university, it’s across the board,’ says her colleague, Ellen Soutter. ‘It seems it’s not even talked about until it comes up in the second year, but by that time you may have had several placements and already had to deal with a patient’s death.’

Few students felt prepared for end of life care

The two students' perceptions were reinforced by a survey they carried out that attracted responses from students in more than 50 organisations. This revealed that only a small percentage felt they were introduced to end of life care at the best time for them.

To plug the training gap, the pair have worked together to create an educational resource aimed at helping prepare first-year nursing students. The package provides tools to boost resilience so that students can support the patient, and their loved ones.

‘Students share their own experiences, whether personal or professional. It’s a safe place to talk about feelings’

Rachael Lambe

‘It all began with a conversation,’ says Ms Soutter. ‘Students didn’t know what to expect when they first cared for someone who was dying, and they found it scary. We decided something needed to be done, so we did it.’

Covering issues such as discussing priorities and preferences for care, and where to find support, the resource includes a presentation and card game. Widely supported by both students and lecturers, it was incorporated into the university’s pre-registration nursing curriculum in December 2017, with a session lasting one to two hours.  

‘It’s interactive,’ explains Ms Lambe. ‘It encourages students to share their own experiences, whether personal or professional. It’s a safe place to talk about feelings.’

Both students are also student quality ambassadors – a voluntary role for those studying a healthcare-related qualification in north west England who are keen to raise standards of care while developing their leadership skills.

‘We ran the first pilot on an ambassadors’ development day,’ explains Ms Soutter. ‘We got feedback about what worked and what didn’t from other students and tweaked the resource afterwards.' 

Sharing the resource

Now they are working towards getting the resource published by the university, so that others can use it too. In addition, and encouraged by fellow student quality ambassadors, they entered their work for the national NHS Academy of Fabulous Stuff awards, which are designed to recognise people and teams who are bringing innovation and best practice to the NHS.

The duo was presented with the Hartley Larkin award in November 2018. ‘We were really shocked to win. It was very exciting,’ says Ms Soutter.

Both agree that what made the award even more special was that it was chosen by the public from a shortlist. ‘It’s nice to hear our work wasn’t just recognised by academics and professionals but by the general public too,’ adds Ms Lambe.

But finding time hasn’t always been easy. ‘You just have to learn to juggle,’ says Ms Soutter. ‘If we’ve had exams or assignments, it’s gone on the back burner then when we’ve had time, we’ve put more effort into it.’

Ms Lambe adds: ‘But when you are passionate about something, it comes naturally.’  

Further information

Student Quality Ambassadors

Lynne Pearce is a health writer


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