Should Medical Schools Offer Grief Training For Doctors?

Originally published on May 29, 2012 7:29 am

A peer-reviewed study to be published Tuesday, and described by health psychologist Leeat Granek yesterday in The New York Times, shows that for doctors, expressing grief "in the medical context is considered shameful and unprofessional."

To be a physician and openly grieve for one's patients is considered a sign of weakness, the study suggests.

I'm really surprised by this finding, as I'd somehow thought most medical schools paid attention nowadays to the emotional side of doctor-patient relationships.

Of course physicians need some distance from the emotionally costly aspects of their jobs; I understand this. But the new research shows that suppressing grief may negatively affect doctors' professional judgment. Half the doctors surveyed reported that they sometimes choose more aggressive treatments than might be best for their patients (instead of opting for palliative care), or distanced themselves from patients who were dying.

In this case, the cliche is true: more research is needed, because only 20 doctors, all oncologists, were interviewed for this study.

It seems an idea with huge benefits and zero costs: grief training for doctors in medical school.

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