Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Palliative Care Education - Does It Influence Future Practice?

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Palliative Care Education - Does It Influence Future Practice?

Article excerpt

It is generally recognised that there is a need for undergraduate nursing education to incorporate palliative care education within undergraduate programmes in order to meet the professional and personal demands made upon nurses when providing end of life care (Adriaansen & van Achterberg, 2007; Kwekkeboom, Vahl, & Eland, 2005). Whilst historically, palliative care was confined to patients with cancer, it has now become a form of care offered to patients experiencing an incurable chronic disease (Addington-Hall & Altmann, 2000). With an ageing population it is expected that an increasing number of patients will require palliative care in a variety of settings including: a person's own home; nursing homes; hospices; and virtually every clinical setting within acute care (Cohen, O'Connor, & Blackmore, 2002). 'Nurses play a pivotal role in palliative and end of life care' (Dickinson, Clark, & Sque, 2008, p. 163) and such care is recognised as being largely provided by nurses (Dickinson, 2007). However, for this care to be effectively delivered requires nursing curricula to include discrete palliative care topics in order to help nursing students to be better prepared to assist palliative patients and their families (Dickinson et al., 2008).

It is anticipated that the majority of patients in need of palliative care will depend on student nurses and graduate nurses who, whilst not experts, are nevertheless familiar with the principles and practice of palliative care (Adriaansen & van Achterberg, 2007; Lloyd-Williams & Field, 2002). The dependency will arise because of a perceived shortage of nurses with expertise in palliative care.

Traditionally nurses have not received adequate education in the care of the incurably ill patient and nursing education has not been seen to be sufficiently effective in preparing student nurses to care for this class of patients (Mallory, 2003; Arber, 2001). However, nursing students reported increased satisfaction with their ability to deliver end of life care when end of life education and palliative nursing care had been adequately provided within their nursing education (Beck, 1997; Payne, Dean, & Klaus, 1998). Improvements in nursing students' knowledge and clinical competence were reported to be related to the inclusion of palliative care education within nursing programmes and accordingly it has been recommended that palliative care education is included in the basic nursing curriculum (Rosser, 2005; Wilkie, Kay, Judge, Wells, & Berkley, 2001). The Australian Government has addressed the need for the inclusion of palliative care in all disciplines of health care through the funding of Palliative Care Curriculum for Undergraduates, PCC4U Project.

Currently, there is a paucity of Australian evidence to identify whether the teaching of palliative care subjects can influence a nursing student's perceived clinical competence in the provision of fundamental palliative care practices.

The study


The aim of this research study was to determine if the completion of an oncology and palliative care elective course aided a group of undergraduate nursing students in the clinical provision of palliative care. The course is offered to year 3 students of the Bachelor of Nursing programme and is held for 3 hours each week within semester 2. The oncology content constituted 70% of the course whilst the palliative care content constituted 70% of the course and consisted of a selection of palliative care problems and related treatments, together with psychosocial, ethical and spiritual concerns often encountered in palliative care. A considerable part of the palliative care material was guided by PCC4U outlines and recommendations.


A descriptive/explorative mixed methods study was conducted which consisted of two phases. This paper presents the results from phase one.

Questionnaire and sample

In the first phase a questionnaire was sent to third year nursing students at a Victorian university who had recently completed the oncology and palliative care course. …

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