Ochsmann, R. and Nehrmann-Jndrosch, U., University of Mainz, Germany
Research was conducted to examine experiences of health care professionals who care for the terminally ill. In Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, caregivers (physicians, nurses, pastors, and hospice staff) took part in an extensive questionnaire study that was funded by the State Government. This report focuses on the doctors' first experiences with a dying patient. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to analyze reports of 60 physicians working in hospitals. The most important results of this study may be summarized as follows: Especially male doctors had difficulties to specify their first professional experiences with death more precisely. Gender differences also appeared with respect to emotional reactions which mainly consisted of feelings of insufficiency, fear, empathy, acceptance and rage. Two thirds of the male physicians felt threatened by their first death experience, one third could accept it somehow. Female doctors rarely reported such a more factual dealing with death. They, however, experienced less feelings of insufficiency and more feelings of empathy than males. The first experiences with a dying patient are connected with physicians' own fear of death and dying: Those who reported more positive experiences, showed lower scores of death anxiety. Results point to the necessity of specialized training for young doctors. Moreover, first encounters with death should be discussed in hospital teams, and even programs of therapeutic interventions have to be considered since traumatic experiences do occur as well.