When a doctor holds “hard knowledge” of a patient’s true condition, he or she feels a burden. “Sometimes I’ll take a chart and look at the imaging and everything’s worse and the numbers are worse,” one doctor said. “I have to drag myself into the patient’s room and figure out what I can offer them that’s hopeful and positive,” he continued. “It’s tough.”
According to Leeat Granek, the study director, the ability to acknowledge one’s grief over the death of a patient would represent a response healthier than what exists now. “There is no acknowledgement at all,” he said. “And there’s denial.”
Since 2008, however, the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. has held staff meetings where physicians discuss their experiences with the loss of their patients–and their grief. They express feelings of frustration, anger, loss, isolation, and insecurity in an atmosphere of acceptance and support. At the conclusion, the doctors observe a moment of silence to remember patients who recently died. They are also given opportunity to speak the names of their deceased patients.
“Oncologists are working very hard and doing a phenomenal job with very large numbers of patients,” Granek said. “They could use a little bit of support with this piece.”
What has been your experience working with an oncologist of a loved-one, or your own? Have you thought about how difficult a position they’re in? The next time you come under their care, or any physician in a life-threatening situation, remember to express appreciation.