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End-of-life conversations about death and dying from volunteer perspectives: A qualitative study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2024

Andrea Rodríguez-Prat*
Faculty of Humanities, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain
Donna M. Wilson
Faculty of Nursing, Third Floor ECHA Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Corresponding author: Andrea Rodríguez-Prat; Email:



Although often unrecognized, volunteers fulfill many essential roles in hospices and other end-of-life care settings. Volunteers complement the actions of professionals in fulfilling many extra care needs, such as delivering newspapers and tidying bedsides. We explored end-of-life conversations about death and dying between hospice volunteers and terminally ill people, with a particular emphasis on any expressed desire to die. Our 2 research questions were as follows: (1) What is the nature of end-of-life conversations between hospice patients and hospice volunteers? and (2) How do hospice volunteers experience conversations about death and dying with patients who are at the end-of-life?


We conducted semi-structured interviews using an interpretive phenomenological analysis. We recruited hospice volunteers from 4 hospices in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer; 3 larger cities in the province of Alberta, Canada.


We interviewed 12 participants to saturation. Four themes emerged: (1) trusting conversations about death and dying in the context of a safe place; (2) normalcy of conversations about death and dying; (3) building meaningful relationships; and (4) end-of-life conversations as a transformative experience. Our results emphasize the importance of preparing volunteers for conversations about death and dying, including the desire to die.

Significance of results

The safe environment of the hospice, the commitment to patient confidentiality, and the ability of volunteers to meet the basic and emotional needs of dying people or simply just be present without having formal care duties that need to be completed contribute to volunteers being able to participate in timely and needed conversations about death and dying, including the desire to die. In turn, hospice experiences and end-of-life conversations provide a transformative experience for volunteers.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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