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Original Investigation
August 9/23, 1999

Twenty Years Beyond Medical School: Physicians' Attitudes Toward Death and Terminally Ill Patients

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC.

Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(15):1741-1744. doi:10.1001/archinte.159.15.1741

Background  In response to consumer demands and recent changes in health care, the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges have expressed concern about how physicians relate to patients, especially those who are seriously ill.

Objective  To determine the impact of 20 years of medical practice on the attitudes of physicians toward terminally ill patients and their families.

Methods  Data were gathered from questionnaires mailed in 1976 and again in 1996 to physicians who graduated from medical school between 1972 and 1975.

Results  Responses were received from 71% and 63% of the 1664 and 1109 physicians surveyed in 1976 and 1996, respectively. Using a t test for paired variables, statistically significant differences were noted for physicians' responses to all of the 11 Likert-type attitudinal statements on death and terminally ill patients and their families. Physicians in 1996 were more willing to inform terminally ill patients of their prognosis and in general seemed more confident with dying patients than they were in 1976.

Conclusions  After 2 decades of practicing medicine, physicians' attitudes toward terminally ill patients seem to have changed; physicians appear to be more open to communicating with terminally ill patients and their families on issues concerning death and dying.