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A Qualitative Study on the Experiences and Reflections of Junior Doctors During a Palliative Care Rotation: Perceptions of Challenges and Lessons Learnt

      Abstract

      Context

      Doctors caring for patients with life-limiting illness are often exposed to emotional distress.

      Objectives

      We aimed to explore the experiences and perceptions of junior doctors working full time in a palliative care rotation. We examined the lessons junior doctors learnt in managing their emotions as they face patients' death on a daily basis.

      Methods

      We conducted a qualitative study with seven focus group discussions involving 21 junior doctors (medical officers and residents). Data were analyzed using qualitative thematic analysis to identify the themes related to the perceived challenges of these junior doctors and how they managed the struggles. Interviews were conducted with junior doctors who spent at least two months in a palliative care unit in a tertiary hospital or an inpatient hospice.

      Results

      Junior doctors caring for dying patients in a palliative care rotation faced internal conflicts. Conflicting feelings arose because of differing expectations from their preconceived notions of their roles as doctors. Two main themes of internal struggles were professional distancing and emotional detachment as well as prognostic uncertainty and when to withhold and withdraw medical treatments. Coping strategies that helped included mentoring and role modeling provided by palliative care physicians, reframing their care experiences and reflection to find meaning in their work.

      Conclusion

      A palliative care rotation exposes junior doctors to emotionally overwhelming experiences. With proper guidance, this exposure is useful in teaching junior doctors important coping strategies, allowing learning to occur at a deeper level.

      Key Words

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