In a recent event I was faced with dealing with death and especially the response of health care practitioners to the death of a patient when a four year old cerebral palsy child had passed on before the second treatment session. I returned to my clinician and reported that the patient has passed on. The clinician showed very little emotion and handed me a new patient followed by the words: “you’ve lost one, now you’ve gained one”
Even though I did not expect the clinician to be empathetic to me but what upset me, was her reaction to death in general. I was raised to respect death and that even if you did not know the person; some form of sympathy is still conveyed. The reason this affected me was because my immediate thoughts were: ‘does dealing with death on a regular basis desensitize you as a person to death in general?’
According to Duarte et al (2015) it is a common fear among medical students to become desensitized to death when they first encounter dealing with the death of a patient. Generally medical professionals avoid talking about death and different personalities have different way of processing dealing with death. Some pretends that is does not affect them and will brush it off. Others might acknowledge death and become withdrawn for a short while.
The article also describes the importance of including education at an undergraduate level on how to deal with death.
After discovering that it is not an uncommon fear among medical students I feel that I have to find my own personal way to deal with the death of a patient. It is also important to respect the way others deal with death because there is no ‘right’ way to deal with such a traumatic situation but it is important to be sensitive without affecting the treatment of other patients and that is where professionalism comes into play.
Duarte, A. C., Almeida, D. V. D., & Popim, R. C. (2015). Death within the medical undergraduate routine: students’ views. Interface-Comunicação, Saúde, Educação, 19(55), 1207-1219.