Young adults understanding and readiness to engage with palliative care: extending the reach of palliative care through a public health approach: a qualitative study

Anita Mallon, Felicity Hasson, Karen Casson, Paul Slater, Sonja McIlfatrick

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Moving palliative care from a solely clinical focus to a more population based and community orientated approach is the hallmark of a much advocated public health approach to palliative care. Young adults are a vital cohort of the public, yet their understanding of palliative care has not been investigated. This study aimed to explore young adults' understanding of palliative care and identify factors that influence their engagement.

A purposive sample of young adults (n = 24) aged 18-29 years were recruited from one UK University. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken face to face or via telephone or Skype between November 2017 and February 2018. Thematic analysis using a framework approach and underpinned by a socioecological perspective was used to analyse the interviews.

Three thematic categories were identified relating to intrapersonal and interpersonal influences, cultural and social influences and organisational and public policy influences. Palliative care was understood as supportive comfort care, delivered in the absence of cure, associated with the end of life and specifically focused on death and dying. Negative attitudes related to the context of care, which represented a static and hopeless situation. Whilst some reported positive attitudes, potential engagement was seen to be governed by a lack of knowledge and protective cultural norms. In terms of demonstrating readiness to engage with palliative care, participants requested clear information and suggested a normalising of palliative care through the education system.

Young adults in this study were ready to find out more about palliative care and identified social media as a platform upon which to engage this population. However, their perception of a society that views palliative care as a subject for those directly affected, creates a barrier to engagement. This study identified the ingredients of a public health message and mediums for disseminating the message. However, findings also suggest that a cultural shift is required to recognise the potential of engaging young adults in health issues that cross the life span, empowering them not only as individuals but as vital members of community and society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Early online date28 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 28 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. Awarded to the lead author [AM] to undertake this research as part of a PhD. The funders had no role in the design of the study, data collection, analysis, interpretation nor in the writing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Qualitative
  • Public Health
  • Attitudes
  • Young Adult
  • Palliative Care
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing
  • Humans
  • Population Groups
  • Qualitative Research


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