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Our Responsibility for Training Physicians to Understand the Effect Patient Death Has on ThemUnderstanding Patient Death Effect on Physicians: The Role of the Intensivist

J. Randall Curtis, MD, MPH, FCCP; Mitchell M. Levy, MD, FCCP
Author and Funding Information

From the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine (Dr Curtis), Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington; and Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep (Dr Levy), Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University.

Correspondence to: J. Randall Curtis, MD, MPH, FCCP, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Box 359762, 325 Ninth Ave, Seattle, WA 98104; e-mail: jrc@u.washington.edu


Financial/nonfinancial disclosures: The authors have reported to CHEST that no potential conflicts of interest exist with any companies/organizations whose products or services may be discussed in this article.

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians. See online for more details.


Chest. 2014;145(5):932-934. doi:10.1378/chest.13-2600
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Death can have a powerful emotional effect on physicians, whether they are medical students, postgraduate trainees, or those who have finished their training.1,2 Physicians at various stages of training and practice report similar emotional impact, with one-third reporting that a recent death had a “strong” emotional impact on them; they report similar symptoms of grief.1,2 Medical students and residents often describe a powerful and “haunting” effect that even expected deaths can have on them, with some of these deaths described as “just too awful.”2-4 Such deaths can have a lasting impact, and caring for the dying is one of the major predictors of burnout among physicians and nurses.5-8 Unfortunately, very little formal training in coping skills for dealing with death is offered to physicians-in-training. Medical students, interns, and residents are, for the most part, left to fend for themselves when working through their emotional reactions to the death of a patient.

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