Degree Name

DrPH (Doctor of Public Health)


Public Health

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Deborah Slawson

Committee Members

Roger Blackwell, Martha Copp


The unprecedented growth of the aging population in Tennessee is a significant demographic trend that highlights the necessity for healthcare policy that tackles end-of-life issues. This study examined the perceived quality of end-of-life healthcare in Tennessee, areas that are in need of improvement, policies that have the potential to influence improvements, and the role of politics in end-of-life healthcare policy. It also assessed the support for end-of-life healthcare policy that would advance quality of care and expand end-of-life choices for Tennesseans, while evaluating the policy-making process that legislators employ.

For this study, data were collected using semi-structured, in-depth interviews with an open interview guide. These interviews were conducted in a two-tiered format. Tier 1 included ten leading experts in various areas of end-of-life healthcare and aging in Tennessee. Tier 2 included nine legislators who were members of the health committees of either the Tennessee House of Representatives or the Tennessee Senate. Qualitative data were organized into numerous categories, and an initial phase of open coding was completed. From this phase of coding, emergent themes and focuses were discovered. This was followed by focused coding on all nineteen interviews using coding software to organize subtleties.

Findings of the Tier 1 interviews indicated that there are many areas of end-of-life healthcare that need improvement including increased funding, expanded caregiver support, improved doctor-patient communication, and increased use of advance directives. Emergent themes included the influence of money, having difficult conversations, the stigma of death and dying, and supporting the caregiver. Tier 2 findings highlighted the motivations behind voting decisions and the level of awareness legislators have in areas of end-of-life healthcare policy. Both tiers also explored the support and opposition of physician-assisted death.

The findings of this dissertation are intended to inform health professionals and state legislators. The data gathered through this exploratory research and the knowledge gained will lead to a greater understanding of end-of-life healthcare in Tennessee, and what needs to be done to improve its quality. This will allow individuals and families faced with end-of-life decisions to navigate the process with expanded options, access, and support.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.