Joanna Beveridge, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, Division of Occupational Therapy and Arts Therapies, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Scotland, runs a master class that aims to get occupational therapy students more aware and involved with issues around death and dying.
Dying to know? This was the title of a Health Promoting Palliative Care (HPPC) master class I recently carried out with pre-registration occupational therapy (OT) students at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, as part of my work-based learning (WBL) project for my MSc in Palliative Care. In Scotland, HPPC has been set within a policy framework. Following the Scottish government’s publication, ‘Living and Dying Well: A national action plan for palliative and end of life care in Scotland’, the Short Life Working Group was established to explore ideas and issues for addressing palliative and end of life care from a public health and health promotion perspective. The master class was established so the students could:
- develop knowledge, confidence and skills when exploring the topics of death, dying and loss
- evaluate the therapeutic use of self within this context
- discuss the effects that death, dying and loss have on occupational engagement
- explain the importance of talking about death, dying and loss
- examine differing professional and personal values, attitudes, feelings and experiences related to death, dying and loss.
Eight students participated. At the start of the day students thought about what they wanted to do before they died and wrote this on a post-it note. Some wishes were serious, some were silly, but all provided a talking point for the beginning of the day. The concept of HPPC was explained to students and the links with OT outlined. Group discussions took place about their experiences of palliative care both personally and professionally, and in the afternoon the students took part in a ‘Death Café’ using a ‘Dining with Death’ menu. (A ‘Death Café aims to increase awareness of death, dying, loss and bereavement, and the conversation menu provides prompts to begin this discussion). The students evaluated positively the master class using a ‘write a letter to a friend’ format. Comments included:
- “The ‘death café’ was a good idea – it was a great way to have an in-depth semi-structured discussion about matters related to death.”
- “My grandmother often talks about death and I now feel more confident discussing this with her.”
- “The hard part of the day was discussing your own experiences of death, however the master class was a very supportive environment to do this in.”
- “I guess today has highlighted the importance of talking about death with your loved ones and how this can minimise the difficulties faced when your death does occur.”
The master class will be run again and more work needs to be done to make it sustainable and participatory as stated in the ‘Big 7 Checklist’. Meanwhile, I have just presented my poster on the findings from the master class at the 16th International Congress of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, which took place in Yokohama, Japan, last week (18-21 June 2014).
Useful links and resources…
- The Scottish Government: Living and Dying Well: A national action plan for palliative and end of life care in Scotland. Edinburgh: 2008. (Accessed 25 June 2014).
- Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief (an alliance of organisations established and hosted by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care) includes ideas and several publications to download.
- Big 7 Checklist – useful checklist for planning activities.