Nature and impact of grief over patient loss on oncologists' personal and professional lives Academic Article uri icon


  • To our knowledge, this study is the first qualitative exploration of the nature and impact of grief in oncologists. We found that for oncologists, patient loss was a unique affective experience that had a smokelike quality. Like smoke, this grief was intangible and invisible. Nonetheless, it was pervasive, sticking to the physicians' clothes when they went home after work and slipping under the doors between patient rooms. Of greatest significance to our health care system is that some of the oncologists' reactions to grief reported in our study (eg, altered treatment decisions, mental distraction, emotional and physical withdrawal from patients) suggest that the failure of oncologists to deal appropriately with grief from patient loss may negatively affect not only oncologists personally but also patients and their families. One way to begin to ameliorate these negative effects would be to provide education to oncologists on how to manage difficult emotions such as grief starting at the residency stage and as continuing education throughout their careers, with the recognition that grief is a sensitive topic that can produce shame and embarrassment for the mourner.⁷

publication date

  • January 1, 2012