Studies have shown that experiencing a patient
death brings about negative emotional and physical consequences. These include a sense of failure, decreased
effectiveness, poor decision making, psychological impairment, and early career
burnout. Until this time, however, no published
literature exists that investigates the effect of patient death on medical
students in the Emergency Department (ED). Experiencing the death of a patient
can be extremely challenging in the ED setting.
This is mainly because deaths in the ED are “often traumatic and
unexpected involving young and previously health individuals”. Emergency
doctors who experience the death of their patients consider quitting their
jobs, changing their professions and/or taking time off. Medical students are the ones who tend to
suffer the most due to their limited experience and training. Although students have shown high emotional
reactions to the death of a patient, they received no guidance and/or support
from their medical teams. On the contrary, students were often rebuked and
mocked: any opportunity to teach the students about how to deal with stress and
cope with the situation was, therefore, lost. Another concern arises as a
result of criticizing the students’ emotional responses as this may hinder the
growth of the students into caring physicians. Further, it may convey a message
to students that a professional doctor is one who possesses a high degree of
detachment. Allowing medical students rotating in the ED to
share their experiences about patient death is important, as this may allow for
interventions to be designed that will help the neophyte physician cope
constructively with this very fraught area and which may teach students the
required skills to properly handle death situations
Four-year medical students studying at the
American University of Beirut (AUB) between 2014 and 2015.
Students were notified of the study through
telephone calls and emails. A research assistant contacted them during or two –
three months after their rotation in the Emergency Department. They were asked
to participate in 30 minute interviews of open-ended and semi-structured
questionnaire about their experience with patient death in the Emergency Department
and the floor.
unwilling to discuss their experiences.