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Medical student anxiety in caring for dying patients and their family: a cross-sectional study

Abstract

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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