emergency, end-of-life, obstacles, emergency nurse, rural, rural nursing


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 or obstacles to providing end-of-life (EOL) care. This study was completed to discover the size, frequency, and magnitude of obstacles in providing EOL care in rural emergency departments as perceived by rural emergency nurses.

Methods: A 57-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 obstacles to providing EOL care in rural emergency departments. Results were compared with results from 2 previous emergency nurses’ studies to determine if rural nurses had different obstacles to providing EOL care.

Results: The top 3 perceived obstacles by rural emergency nurses were: (1) family and friends who continually call the nurse for 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 that does not allow for privacy of dying patients or grieving family members. The results of this study differed from the other 2 previous studies of emergency nurses’ perceptions of EOL care.

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 also can 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 compared with their counterparts working in predominately non-rural emergency departments. By understanding the obstacles faced by emergency nurses in the rural setting, changes can be implemented to help decrease the largest obstacles to EOL care, which will improve care of the dying patient in rural emergency departments. Further research is needed in the area of rural emergency nursing and in EOL care for rural patients.

Original Publication Citation

Beckstrand, R. L., Giles, V.**, Luthy, K. E., Callister, L. C., & Heaston, S. (2012). The last frontier: Rural emergency nurses’ perceptions of end-of-life care. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 38(5), e15-e25.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Journal of Emergency Nursing





University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor