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CMAJ. 2011 Feb 8;183(2):180-7. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.100511. Epub 2010 Dec 6.

Impact of death and dying on the personal lives and practices of palliative and hospice care professionals.

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Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


Background Working within the landscape of death and dying, professionals in palliative and hospice care provide insight into the nature of mortality that may be of benefit to individuals facing the end of life. Much less is known about how these professionals incorporate these experiences into their personal lives and clinical practices. Methods This ethnographic inquiry used semi-structured interviews and participant observation to elicit an in-depth understanding of the impact of death and dying on the personal lives of national key leaders (n = 6) and frontline clinicians (n = 24) involved in end-of-life care in Canada. Analysis of findings occurred in the field through constant comparative method and member checking, with more formal levels of analysis occurring after the data-collection phase. Results Eleven specific themes, organized under three overarching categories (past, present and future), were discovered. Early life experiences with death were a common and prominent feature, serving as a major motivator in participants' career path of end-of-life care. Clinical exposure to death and dying taught participants to live in the present, cultivate a spiritual life, reflect on their own mortality and reflect deeply on the continuity of life. Interpretation Participants reported that their work provided a unique opportunity for them to discover meaning in life through the lessons of their patients, and an opportunity to incorporate these teachings in their own lives. Although Western society has been described as a "death-denying" culture, the participants felt that their frequent exposure to death and dying was largely positive, fostering meaning in the present and curiosity about the continuity of life.

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