Introduction: Caring for dying patients is part of working in a rural emergency department. Rural emergency nurses are prepared to provide life-saving treatments but find there are barriers to providing end-of-life (EOL) care. This study was completed to discover what the size, frequency, and magnitude of obstacles were in providing EOL care in rural emergency departments as perceived by rural emergency nurses.

Methods: A 58-item questionnaire was sent to 52 rural hospitals in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Alaska. Respondents were asked to rate items on size and frequency of perceived barriers to providing EOL care in rural emergency departments. Results were compared with results from two previous emergency nurses' studies to determine if rural nurses had different barriers to providing EOL care.

Results: The top three perceived obstacles by rural emergency nurses were: 1) family and friends who continually call the nurse wanting an update on the patient's condition rather than calling the designated family member; 2) knowing the patient or family members personally, and 3) the poor design of emergency departments which do not allow for privacy of dying patients or grieving family members. The results of this study differed from the other two previous studies of emergency nurses.

Discussion: Nurses in rural emergency settings often work in an environment without many support personnel. Answering numerous phone calls removes the nurse from the bedside of the dying patient and is seen as a large and frequent obstacle. Personally knowing either the patient or members of the family is a common obstacle to providing EOL care in rural communities. Rural nurses often describe their patients as family members or friends. Caring for a dying friend or family member can be intensely rewarding, but can all so be very distressing.

Conclusion: Rural emergency nurses live and work on the frontier. Little EOL research has been conducted using the perceptions of rural emergency nurses possibly because of the difficulty in accurately accessing this special population of nurses. Rural emergency nurses report experiencing both similar and different obstacles as compared to their counterparts working in predominately urban emergency departments. By understanding the obstacles faced by emergency nurses in the rural setting, changes can be implemented to help decrease the largest barriers to EOL care which will improve care of the dying patient in rural emergency departments. Further research is also required in the area of rural emergency nursing and in EOL care for rural patients.



College and Department

Nursing; Nursing



Date Submitted


Document Type





End-of-life care, rural, emergency departments



Included in

Nursing Commons