Objectives To investigate the level of medical student anxiety in caring for a dying patient and their family and identify influencing factors.
Methods We conducted a cross-sectional survey in a UK medical school to measure medical student anxiety using a validated Thanatophobia Scale questionnaire.
Results In total, 332 questionnaires were completed. Mean thanatophobia score was 19.5 (SD 7.78, range 7–49). Most respondents were female (67.4%) and did not have a previous undergraduate degree (56%). Median student age was 22 years (IQR 20–24). Year of study influenced anxiety level, with second year students displaying an increase in mean thanatophobia score of 6.088 (95% CI 3.778 to 8.398, p<0.001). No significant differences were observed between final year and first year thanatophobia scores. For each 1-year increase in student age, mean thanatophobia score reduced by −0.282 (95% CI −0.473 to −0.091, p=0.004). Degree status and gender identity did not significantly affect thanatophobia score.
Conclusion A degree of thanatophobia exists among medical students, with no significant improvement observed by completion of training. Recognising this anxiety to care for the dying earlier in undergraduate curricula will give educators the opportunity to address students’ fears and concerns and better prepare our future doctors for their role in caring for our dying patients and their families.
- education and training
- end of life care
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Contributors GW is the corresponding author and primary researcher. GW has been involved in every aspect of this study from initial conception, data collection, analysis and development of this paper. This study was undertaken as part of a Medical Doctorate. CL is one of the primary supervisors of the corresponding author. She has advised on all aspects of data collection, analysis and interpretation. She has reviewed and edited this paper prior to submission. AH is one of the primary supervisors of the corresponding author. He has advised on aspects of data collection using the Thanatophobia Scale questionnaire, provided his expertise as a consultant in palliative medicine and has reviewed and edited this paper prior to submission. OM is one of the primary supervisors of the corresponding author. He has provided his expertise as a consultant in palliative medicine and has reviewed and edited this paper prior to submission. JW is one of the primary supervisors of the corresponding author. She has overseen this study, providing the resources to allow the study to be undertaken. She has advised the primary researcher with respect to obtaining ethical approval and has supported the study at every stage. She has also reviewed and edited this paper prior to submission.
Funding This study has been undertaken as part of a fully funded medical doctorate being undertaken by the primary researcher at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.