Medical Students Have Concerns About Becoming Desensitized To Dying Patients

Posted by Evan Brown On January - 3 - 2014

Medical Students Have Concerns About Becoming Desensitized To Dying Patients

A study based on the reflections of third-year Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine students has revealed that physicians in training often face struggle when trying to control their own emotions while not becoming desensitized to the needs of the dying patient and his or her family.

“Medical students are very aware they are undergoing a socialization process by which they become desensitized to the difficult things they see every day in the hospital. They realize this is necessary to control their emotions and focus on caring for the patients. On the other hand, they are very concerned about becoming insensitive to the spiritual, emotional and personal needs of the patient,” said Mark Kuczewski, PhD, leader author and director of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics.

“Students observed how their teams delivered and explained the prognosis. Conversely they also wrote how teams avoided it,” the study reported. “Students reported no matter how well a physician communicated a prognosis, families and individual family members absorbed and digested the information in their own manner and at their own pace.”

“The students reported that some medical teams are very focused on the immediate medical problems. There is a fragmentation of medical care, such as teams rotating on and off service and patient transfers also that allows medical practitioners to avoid addressing the larger picture, death,” Kuczewski said. This same fragmentation may cause practitioner to overlook patients’ and families’ needs for information and emotional and spiritual support.

It was revealed by the study that students struggled to avoid becoming desensitized to the human reality that their patients were experiencing while also learning to control their emotions. “Students were aware they must temper their emotions to be patient-centered. Still, many were upset that increasingly they were ceasing to react emotionally to situations as they typically would have prior to their clinical experiences,” said Kuczweski.

The study published in the January issue of Academic Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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