Send to

Choose Destination
Int J Med Educ. 2018 Mar 27;9:74-82. doi: 10.5116/ijme.5a88.1f80.

How do medical and nursing students experience emotional challenges during clinical placements?

Author information

Department of Learning, School of Education and Communication in Engineering Science (ECE), KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology (CLINTEC), Division of Renal Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society (NVS), Division of Nursing, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.



To investigate which kinds of situations medical and nursing students found emotionally challenging during their undergraduate education, and how they managed their experiences.


This study used an exploratory research design. We gathered qualitative data using an open-ended questionnaire distributed to students in the middle and at the end of their education. In total, 49 nursing and 65 medical students participated. Also, five students were interviewed individually to acquire richer data. Data were analysed using narrative thematic analysis.


Medical and nursing students experienced a range of situations during their undergraduate education that they found emotionally challenging, mainly during clinical placements. The students' narratives concerned confronting patients' illness and death, unprofessional behaviour among healthcare professionals, dilemmas regarding patient treatment, students relating to patients as individuals and not diagnoses, and using patients for their own learning. The narratives concerned both the formal and the hidden curriculum, i.e., what is included in the profession (confronting illness and death), and what is not (unprofessional behaviour among healthcare professionals). Students managed their experiences by talking to trusted peers or supervisors, and by getting used to these situations.


Despite the different knowledge, experiences, and conditions for medical and nursing students, our findings suggest that their experiences of emotional challenges are similar. Support and opportunities to talk about these experiences are important. Teachers, supervisors, and students need to be aware that students might experience emotionally difficult situations, and that the students need time for reflection and support.


emotional aspects; medical education; narrative inquiry; nursing education; qualitative analysis; student experiences

Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for International journal of medical education
Loading ...
Support Center