Graduation Year


Document Type

Senior Thesis


Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Primary Major


Thesis Advisor

Olivia Catolico, Ph.D, RN, CNL, RN-BC


The negative attitudes and feelings of healthcare workers towards patients with substance use disorder are well documented. These include, but are not limited to, believing a person with this disease is “drug seeking”, “violent”, and “unmotivated”. While this population has challenging issues to address, these beliefs can decrease the quality of care provided and results in less people seeking out needed treatment. Reducing stigmas through alternative education methods, like learning the life story of a patient, can help health care workers develop feelings of empathy and compassion. Subsequently, this education can result in better care and outcomes for these patients. Relevant research included in this study were those discussing the experience of patients with substance use disorder (SUD) in healthcare settings, providers' experiences treating patients with SUD, and studies that used various interventions related to increasing empathy levels among nursing students towards the SUD patient population. Healthcare workers need to be nonjudgmental and have the ability to empathize with their patients. The theory of caring by Jean Watson is a valid framework to improve the interaction between patient and provider; it fosters acceptance and compassion. If these changes are made, patients who use drugs or have struggled with addiction will feel they are in a safe and trusting environment and will continue to seek care when it is needed. This study will recruit undergraduate nursing students enrolled in a psych-nursing course, occurring in their sophomore year. Additionally, the same students will be asked to participate once they are seniors, enrolled in their community health course. Each participant will be provided pre- and post-intervention surveys testing empathy levels. The intervention will consist of a presentation given by a doctor specializing in addiction and a registered nurse diagnosed with SUD. This RN will speak on their life story and experiences with addiction. When the same student participants are seniors, they will take the same survey in order to assess long-term effects of this intervention. This intervention addresses a vital gap in healthcare education—learning how to be compassionate and empathize with another’s situation or experience. As most healthcare workers will care for people with addiction issues in their career, it is important to develop empathy towards this population for better patient health outcomes. Key words for this research include: addiction, stigma, lived experiences, healthcare, negative attitudes, empathy.