Physicians do experience reactions to the deaths of their patients, although it is not a topic often talked about or researched. A quantitative and qualitative study identified that physicians early in their training and career found deaths more shocking and disturbing than more experienced physicians did. The same research noted that physicians’ emotional responses were influenced by their own personal experiences with losses, the degree to which they identified or felt close to the patients, and the degree to which they felt responsible for the patients’ deaths. Physicians had powerful experiences with death during all stages of their careers. Experiences with patient death generally fit into one of three types: “good,” “overtreated,” or “shocking/unexpected.” House-staff often described coping in isolation with the disturbing emotions generated in the care of dying patients. Physicians learned how to care for and cope with dying patients from their experiences with patients whose deaths were most emotionally powerful and reported changes in their clinical behavior and career paths as a result. The paper concluded “Physicians’ emotional reactions to patient death can affect patient care and the personal lives of physicians. Supervising physicians have an opportunity to improve both the care of dying patients and house-staff coping with these deaths by using the “teachable moments” that are present for trainees as they care for the dying.”
Understanding the emotional experiences of physicians who care for dying patients
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