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Nursing Point of View on Death and Dying in America


Death is unavoidable for all living creatures. As healthcare providers, nurses play a significant role for dying individuals and their families. Consequently, care that nurses provide for dying and terminally ill patients may be affected by their attitudes towards death. Determinants of the nursing point of view on death and dying in America encompass several factors. These include religious systems and beliefs, as well as philosophical, cultural, societal, personal, and cognitive frameworks, based on which an individual’s views are formulated and interpreted. Therefore, personal feelings of nurses may influence how they perceive death and dying.

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Perception of Death and Dying by Nurses in America

Numerous studies over the last twenty years have investigated the view of death and dying by nurses in America. It is always associated with the anxiety of both the public and healthcare workers. Death anxiety is a feeling of dread and fear at the slightest thought of dying, and it is believed to be a common phobia (Cable-Williams, 2011). In the course of discharging their duties, nurses are often exposed to circumstances leading to the death of patients.

However, their individual attitudes towards death and dying affect the quality of nursing care provided at the terminal stages of a patient’s life. According to Cable-Williams (2011), nurses encounter emotional issues, such as the reality of deaths, and require experience and skills to cope with such fears. Perceptions are formed based on a favorable and unfavorable evaluation of a person, object, or a thing, and are anticipated to change over time or with experience.

Exposing someone to processes that accompany the death makes people conscious of their mortality, causing a rise in anxiety, though the interrelationship of these issues is complicated. A study that was done in America on how nurses view death and dying proposed that one reason for a high degree of apprehension may be the fear of the unknown after death (Badger, 2005). The latter among nurses is also affected by the knowledge received about death and dying and the experience of caring for terminally ill patients (Cable-Williams, 2011).

The research investigating whether education on the process of death and dying among American nurses affected the level of fear showed that 80% of those who had knowledge about death did not fear it (Steinhauser et al., 2000). Another study showed that 90% of those nurses who had experience in caring for terminally ill patients had some apprehension of death (Docherty et al., 2007). They had seen so many people die that they viewed this as just a normal process. They also said that death had not affected the way of care provided for terminally ill patients. Nurses in America feel a varied level of anxiety according to their education and experience.

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Other Factors Affecting Nursing Point of View on Death and Dying

The cultural background and spiritual beliefs in God have a great influence on nurses’ views on death and dying. Individuals with solid religious beliefs may have a more positive attitude towards death and may suffer less from anxiety and depression (Huston, 2011). Spirituality may also contribute to positive coping processes for hospice nurses (Badger, 2005). Religion, especially Christianity, plays a significant role in reducing the fear associated with death. A study that was done to investigate the influence of this aspect on the perception of death and dying among nurses showed that those who believed in God did not fear death and were positive about it (Huston, 2011).

They said that they were not affected by the death of patients and had a positive approach to caring for the dying (Beckstrand, Callister, & Kirchhoff, 2006). Nurses said that they believed in a better life after death. Those who viewed death as a gateway to the afterlife and a natural part of human existence scored better than those who had a different perception of death and were not followers of a particular religion or did not believe in God.

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The cultural environment affects the view of death by nurses due to many explanations given about its meaning. Philosophy and other personal belief systems also affect the nurses’ view of death and dying (Docherty et al., 2007). These belief systems offer a certain explanation of the meaning of death and affect the way in which nurses perceive dying and provide palliative care for patients. Some believe that nurses literary care for patients from the cradle to the grave and play a vital role at each and every stage of the equation. Death is the best healing for a person with a terminal illness; it marks the end of suffering. It is nurses’ honor and privilege to be invited to the individual’s life to share their journey with them (Beckstrand et al., 2006). Therefore, many factors ranging from cultural to religious and even personal beliefs of nurses affect the way they view death and dying.


Frequent exposure to situations involving death and dying is very demanding and requires skills and an insight into their individual points of view on death and dying. Nurses who had a more positive attitude to the latter had a positive perception of the provision of end-of-life care for patients. Education on death and dying and the experience of nurses make them have a positive view on the issues. Culture, society, religion, as well as personal and philosophical belief systems, affect the way American nurses view the process. Their perception is varied and influenced by many factors discussed above.

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