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The role of theatre in end of life care education; a qualitative exploration.

Rogers, Kathy; Armoogum, Julie


Kathy Rogers
Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing (Primary Care/Comm)


End of life care is an important aspect of psychosocial oncology. To provide end of life care which meets people’s psychosocial needs healthcare professionals require both intellectual skills and highly attuned emotional intelligence. Strategies to support the development of these attributes should be promoted within healthcare education programmes (Cleary et al., 2018). The use of theatre in healthcare education allows for the development of both intellect and emotion, by enabling the audience to reflect simultaneously upon a “double perspective” of the real and fictional worlds (Arveklev et al., 2015). An educational initiative for the cancer and end of life care modules, within the BSc Adult Nursing programme at the University of the West of England in Bristol, uses theatre to provoke engagement and deepen understanding.
To explore students’ experiences of a theatre performance and consider the learning and its potential impact on their future practice.
Students watched a theatrical performance by Haylo Theatre Company exploring death and bereavement. Four students took part in a focus group to explore their experiences. University ethical approval was obtained prior to commencing the study.
Three main themes were identified.
1. Relinquishing of professional responsibility
Being an audience member enabled students to explore the topic as an person rather than through the identify of a student nurse.
‘It allows you to deal with death without actually having to deal with it’
‘On placement…. You have to, kind of, be a certain way…. you have to be a nurse… I don’t feel you can delve into your own emotions… but during this, there was no patient that had to be looked after’
2. Permission to feel
The fictional nature of the performance gave students the opportunity to fully engage with their emotions.
‘Nobody actually died’
‘It happened rather than (was) happening’
‘Okay for us to have emotions,… okay for us to be upset’

3. Theatre as distinct learning experience
Environmental elements such as the pared down but powerful set and auditorium setting helped define this as a distinct learning experience.
‘I felt that I was there with them (the characters)… in their experience’
‘(I) listened differently….. Engaged differently’
‘You couldn’t speak to the person next to you… you had to sit with your own thoughts’
This small-scale research project has highlighted that theatre can play a powerful role in end of life care education. The creative and dynamic nature of theatre has the potential to facilitate engagement with emotions and perspectives not usually accessed through traditional teaching methods. It allows students to step outside of their professional roles and be part of a different learning experience.
Arveklev, S.H., Wigert, H., Berg, L., Burton, B. and Lepp, M. (2015) Nurse Education Today The use and application of drama in nursing education — An integrative review of the literature. YNEDT [online]. 35 (7), pp. e12–e17.
Cleary, M., Visentin, D., West, S., Lopez, V. and Kornhaber, R. (2018) Nurse Education Today Promoting emotional intelligence and resilience in undergraduate nursing students: An integrative review. Nurse Education Today [online]. 68 (January), pp. 112–120.


Rogers, K., & Armoogum, J. (2020, February). The role of theatre in end of life care education; a qualitative exploration. Poster presented at British Psychosocial Oncology Society Conference, Edinburgh, UK

Presentation Conference Type Poster
Conference Name British Psychosocial Oncology Society Conference
Conference Location Edinburgh, UK
Start Date Feb 27, 2020
Deposit Date Mar 11, 2020
Public URL