Empowering Hospice Providers To Support Grieving Adolescents

From Touch Point Online Magazine, Summer 2019 – Vol. III, Issue 2
Denice Sheehan

Denice Sheehan, PhD, RN, FPCN, Associate Professor

Drawing from her expertise in the areas of hospice nursing, end-of-life care, and parentally bereaved adolescents, Dr. Sheehan’s research focuses on provision of care for hospice patients and their families, including coping skills of adolescents experiencing the life-limiting illness of a parent.

As an oncology nurse and later, a hospice supervisor, Dr. Sheehan noticed that adolescents with a parent in hospice rarely interact with the health care team and could benefit from more effective strategies to manage grief during and after the loss of a parent. Her subsequent research as a doctoral student and faculty researcher examined care provided to adolescents by the palliative health care team.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Sheehan and her colleagues identified processes adolescents use to manage their lives while a parent is in hospice and after the parent's death. They also found that although adolescents often assume caregiving roles while a parent is in hospice, support by health care professionals for adolescents’ involvement is lacking.

Dr. Sheehan continues to examine compassionate, family-centered hospice care to help providers develop effective interventions for adolescents to improve long-term physical and mental health outcomes. She consults with her teen advisory group, young adults whose parent died when they were adolescents, to design innovative, practical studies. 

As part of the palliative care research team at Kent State University that includes colleagues Drs. Pamela Stephenson, Dana Hansen, and Amy Petrinec in the College of Nursing, Drs. Clare Stacey and Jennifer Taber in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Murray Mayo of Ursuline College, Dr. Sheehan has conducted numerous studies with hospice patients, their adolescent children, family caregivers, and the hospice team.

She has been funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research as a Principal Investigator to study specific strategies used by adolescents to cope with changes in their lives during the final months of a parent’s illness. An exceptionally stressful time for all family members, the final phase of a parent’s life is particularly challenging for adolescents, who are at a developmental crossroads. Findings from these studies allow Dr. Sheehan and her team to better understand ways adolescents interact with their ill parent and explore strategies adolescents may use to navigate this difficult time in their lives.

Along with federal funding, Dr. Sheehan and her team have received both internal grant awards and extramural awards from professional nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Foundation and the Palliative Care Research Cooperative to explore not only adolescent grief and coping strategies, but also spiritual uncertainty among family members with a loved one in hospice and hospice providers.

Dr. Denice Sheehan serves as an Associate Professor at the Kent State University College of Nursing and holds a joint position as Director of Clinical Research with Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. She also serves as a research consultant for the palliative care team at Akron Children’s Hospital.

She received her BSN from the University of South Florida and her MSN and PhD from the University of Akron, and her affiliations include the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association, Midwest Nursing Research Society, and Sigma Theta Tau International. Before joining the faculty at Kent State University, she directed the development of the first graduate nursing program in palliative care in the United States at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. 

Dr. Sheehan teaches a number of graduate-level nursing research courses, as well as the undergraduate course, “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Palliative and End-of-Life Care.” Her research findings have been published in numerous academic journals, including Journal of Palliative Medicine, Palliative and Supportive Care, International Journal of Palliative Nursing, Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, and Psycho-Oncology, as well as the Oxford University Press Textbook of Palliative Nursing, and she has presented her work at national and international hospice and palliative care conferences. In 2017, Dr. Sheehan was honored with the designation of Fellow in Palliative Care Nursing by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association in recognition of her commitment to the field of palliative nursing.

POSTED: Tuesday, July 9, 2019 - 10:19am
UPDATED: Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 11:50am
Denise Karshner