Nurses need course on dealing with death

2014-12-29 00:00

A NEW area of study for budding nurses will focus on how they deal with death.

The findings of a University of Cape Town study highlighted a need for a new course module to help nurses prepare for the reality of patients who die while in their care.

KZN doctors have welcomed the findings, which would see nurses versed in how to deal with grief and death across cultural lines.

The research, conducted by Nicola Fouché, who holds a PhD in Nursing, said a course would also help nurses to understand and respect the way different cultures and religions deal with dying and death.

“Being with someone in their last days of living is a privilege. You can make that death a very significant goodbye for the family as well as yourself,” said Fouché in her thesis titled “We don’t handle death well — Implications for a postgraduate nursing curriculum of intensive care nurses’ experience of death in ICU”.

KZN’s Dr Shailendra Sham, of the South African Medical Association, said the research would assist health workers as they are often exposed to traumatic situations.

“It’s an important aspect for health workers as we don’t have enough training programmes. There are a number of incidents where nurses are exposed to patients who are critically ill and they too suffer emotionally,” Sham said.

“It is often difficult to get emotional support when they encounter these situations and a training course would definitely be valuable.”

This was echoed by DA’s spokesperson on health, Dr Imran Keeka, who said there is “no doubt” that the impact of such a course will profoundly change the quality of health care.

“There should be, even if it is through continuous professional development programmes, a course involving all nurses currently in practice. Not just new nurses. Whether this can be facilitated by government departments for those employed by the state is not clear but it is something that needs to looked into.”

Fouché said despite critical care staff being highly trained and skilled, there is high staff turnover, particularly in paediatric critical care units.

She said students studying towards the Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing expressed “considerable unease when confronted with discussions of death”.

She spent many hours with six nurses who work mainly in paediatric critical care.

“Their [nurses’] sadness was palpable. Often in ICU you don’t have time to say goodbye to a baby. A course won’t stop the burnout and stress, but it may allow nurses the space to understand and grieve.”

• khanyisani.dlomo@witness.co.za

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