Aims Death is something that affects us all. Caring for dying people and their families is a vital role for a doctor. This work experience placement was organised in preparation for an application to medical school, in order to learn about what it is that undertakers do, and to provide experience in the care of families when someone has died.
Method A one week work experience placement was organised with local undertakers, A Natural Undertaking, who aim to give families more care and choice when organising a funeral for a loved one.
Results The week provided a wide range of activities including researching information about different crematoria on the internet and by phone, collecting the ashes of a cremated woman, learning about digital autopsies, and visiting a natural burial ground.
The main event of the week was being involved in a funeral. Preparation included cleaning the car, collecting flowers and dressing the deceased. It was a weird experience to see a dead body, as I hadn’t seen one before. I felt a sort of chill once I saw the body, but after a while it just seemed like any other person. The funeral directors treated her as if she was sleeping and insisted that she was not referred to as ‘the body’ or ‘it’. They spoke to the deceased’s family, showing true compassion and empathy.
Conclusion The placement provided a unique experience which included witnessing compassionate care, seeing a dead body, and learning about the skills necessary to run a business; skills and experiences which are highly relevant to a future career as a doctor. The week also highlighted the need for open and honest conversation about death and dying in society, as so many people die without making choices about their end of life care and death, which can lead to people receiving medical treatments and hospital admissions that they may not want, and can also lead to expensive and traditional funerals which may not be what the person wanted at all.
I would recommend this every student and doctor who will encounter death as part of their work.
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