Health Professions

Doctors and nurses who take care of terminally ill patients often feel frustrated, helpless, and embarrassed by death. Some handle their feelings by stereotyping and depersonalizing patients—treating them as diseases rather than people, and referring to them by room number rather than name. Trained more in saving lives rather than helping dying people, health professionals have a tendency to become detached specialists and spectators who protect themselves by objectifying and combating death rather than dealing with their personal feelings. Staff contacts with the patient decline markedly when an illness is diagnosed as terminal (Gordon & Klass, 1979). Nurses may be abrupt and tense with a terminally ill patient, whom they want to be "cooperative" and not die on their shift (Kubler-Ross, 1975; Mauksch, 1975).

On the other hand, many doctors and nurses are comfortable with dying patients; they may genuinely care for them and miss them when they are gone. These professionals have learned to view death as a natural event rather than a frightening consequence of a medical mistake. Such attitudes toward death and dying patients assist caretakers in their efforts to help terminally ill patients face the inevitability of death.

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