Aims To investigate medical students experience of paediatric deaths.
Methods An anonymous online questionnaire was distributed to all final year medical students at the University of Bristol. This study was approved by the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry Committee for Ethics.
Results 220 students were contacted, 60% responded and 27% had witnessed a paediatric death. 89% of paediatric deaths were abroad on elective. Students have had mixed initial feelings following patient death. Many students abroad were angry or frustrated after their patient died: “angry at myself, worried that I didn't do enough”; they also reported feeling patient death was an “injustice”. In the UK, students witnessed more “expected” deaths and appreciated the concept of “a good death”. In both elective and UK placements, the majority (80% and 76%, respectively) of students found talking to people beneficial—“I think if I was left alone I'd have fallen apart”. In the UK, students often had formal support with 75% turning to doctors for support—“the F1 doctor and lead tutor talked to me which I found comforting”. When students looked for emotional support on elective, they turned to friends globally using email and Facebook rather than talking to local doctors and nurses. Only 13% of medical students thought the medical course had prepared them sufficiently to deal with death—“I think we aren't supported, we might be prepared in terms of medical knowledge but we need support of the more senior medical team”. “Although the palliative care/oncology module in 5th year does help prepare you, many witness deaths before then”. Of those who did feel prepared many said they had gained this knowledge through working as healthcare assistant.
Conclusion Students feel that although they may have “medical knowledge” they are still lacking in emotional support and are often inadequately supported around the time of a patient's death, especially a child. Medical schools need to address these deficiencies within their curricula and doctors need to be aware that medical students require senior support at this time along with advice on obtaining appropriate support while abroad.