Learning About Dying and Living: An Applied Approach to End-of-Life Communication

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The purpose of this article is to expand on prior research in end-of-life communication and death and dying communication apprehension, by developing a unique course that utilizes a hospice setting and an applied, service-learning approach. Therefore, this essay describes and discusses both students’ and my experiences over a 7-year period from 2008 through 2014. The courses taught during this time frame provided an opportunity to analyze students’ responses, experiences, and discoveries across semesters/years and cocultures. This unique, 3-credit, 14-week, service-learning, end-of-life communication course was developed to provide an opportunity for students to learn the theories related to this field of study and to apply that knowledge through volunteer experiences via interactions with dying patients and their families. The 7 years of author’s notes, plus the 91 students’ electronically submitted three reflection essays each (273 total documents) across four courses/years, served as the data for this study. According to the students, verbally in class discussions and in numerous writing assignments, this course helped lower their death and dying communication apprehension and increased their willingness to interact with hospice patients and their families. Furthermore, the students’ final research papers clearly demonstrated how utilizing a service-learning approach allowed them to apply classroom learnings and interactions with dying patients and their families at the hospice, to their analyses of end-of-life communication theories and behaviors. The results of these classes suggest that other, difficult topic courses (e.g., domestic violence, addiction, etc.) might benefit from a similar pedagogical approach.


Copyright 2016 Taylor and Francis

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Health communication

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Pagano, Michael P. "Learning About Dying and Living: An Applied Approach to End-of-Life Communication." Health communication 31.8 (2016): 1019-1028. doi:10.1080/10410236.2015.1034337.