Managing doctors’ grief following a patient’s death

Lou Lewis, Magnolia Cardona

Research output: Contribution to journalOnline ResourceResearch


AFTER a loved one’s death, families often go to their GP for explanations on cause of death, queries on whether the death could have been prevented, and reassurance that the symptoms and moods experienced during their grief are normal. Some may consult with their doctor for symptom management if their grief is prolonged.

However, while we receive a doctor’s support, we rarely consider that GPs can also be grieving their patient’s death.

Usually, the first death of a patient is a devastating and life-long memory for a doctor, as it brings raw emotions and a sense of failure regardless of the efforts made to save that life. This is particularly true if the death is unexpected, or if the GP has treated the patient and their family over many years.

Realising that a patient’s life is going to end soon could trigger intrusive thoughts about the patient and family and a doctor’s own overwhelming feeling of helplessness. It is not unusual for young doctors to be unprepared for the emotional distress they’re about to experience through their careers – diagnosing incurable illness, communicating poor prognosis, supporting a patient and their family at the time of broaching the news, and then at the time of the patient’s death. Doctors constantly have to put on a brave face when confronted with the death of a patient, yet also need to acknowledge the concerns of the relatives and friends, show compassion, convey their availability to counsel and guide them, and refer them to other relevant support services if needed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMJA InSight
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2022


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