‘Course needed to help nurses prepare for death’

A new course is needed within nursing to help nurses prepare for the deaths of patients under their care, the University of Cape Town said.

This followed from new research conducted at UCT by PhD graduate Nicola Foucheé, spokesperson Riana Geldenhuys said today.

In her thesis, Foucheé said nurses, particularly those working in critical care units, were under considerable pressure.

They gave as reasons for leaving the emotional burnout suffered due to the competing priorities they faced, the concern of critical care units to preserve life at all costs, and nurses’ personal need to manage human contact with dying patients.

Despite critical care staff being highly trained and skilled, there was high staff turnover, particularly in paediatric critical care units.

Foucheé said students studying towards the post graduate diploma in nursing (critical care adult and child) at UCT expressed considerable unease when confronted with discussions of death.

Geldenhuys said: “During research for her thesis ... Foucheé spent many hours with six nurses who work mainly in paediatric critical care.

“She said the nurses were asked to draw pictures of their experiences with death. They later talked about them.”

Foucheé stated: “Their 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.”

A course would also help nurses to understand and respect the way different cultures and religions dealt 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,” Foucheé said.

Foucheé, an experienced critical care nurse, convenes the UCT post graduate diploma in nursing (critical care nursing).

She holds an MSc (Nursing), an advanced university diploma in nursing education, and a diploma in intensive nursing science from UCT.

Foucheé graduated with a PhD from UCT on December 16 this year.

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