The Inner Lives of Doctors: Physician Emotion in the Care of the Seriously Ill

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Julie Childers & Bob Arnold

Tag(s): Journal article


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ seminal 1969 work, On Death and Dying, opened the door to understanding individuals’ emotional experiences with serious illness and dying. Patient’s emotions, however, are only half the story in the patient-physician relationship. In recent years physicians’ emotional reactions have gotten more attention. These sometimes-unacknowledged emotions influence how we approach our work, including life and death decisions. This article reviews some of the main emotions physicians experience when caring for seriously ill and dying patients and the challenges physicians face in regulating their emotions in a professional setting. We also discuss some of the ways that physician emotion may influence medical decision-making and contribute to conflict. Attention to the emotional level of physician experience may promote better care.

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