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Coping with chronic illness: A qualitative study of graduate students in health professions programs

26 July 2013


Chronic illnesses are complex, protracted health conditions that affect millions of Americans each year, leading to difficulties in social, occupational, and personal functioning. Often, the stress of managing a chronic condition, in addition to numerous daily tasks and role requirements, can impact the specific coping strategies an individual utilizes, which can be especially true for graduate students diagnosed with chronic illness. Although this population faces significant difficulties in learning to cope while navigating challenging academic studies, the focus of research in this area has been either on school-aged children or older adults. Little is known about their perspectives on chronic illness and the coping strategies they use. This qualitative study explored the coping methods employed and barriers encountered by graduate students in health professions programs (n = 12) enrolled at Pacific University who identified as having at least one chronic condition. Participants volunteered to complete a brief online survey and themes were identified from the responses. Results revealed that students used more active cognitive and behavioral coping strategies, as opposed to avoidant coping, and believed that self-management of their condition required a collaborative approach that balanced medical advice with individual goals. Common barriers for these students at school included lack of empathy, little understanding, and minimization of their symptoms from faculty and peers. Social support, especially from family and friends, was an important factor in coping. Limitations of the current study and suggestions for further investigation are discussed.


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