Medical residents' perspectives on discussions of advanced directives: can prior experience affect how they approach patients?

J Palliat Med. 2007 Jun;10(3):712-20. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2006.0220.


Introduction: Resident physicians are inadequately taught how to communicate with patients about end-of-life decision making. Their beliefs about resuscitation and prior experiences with end-of-life care may impact the manner in which they approach patients.

Objective: To explore residents' perceptions of end-of-life discussions, determine the features they find most important, and discern the challenges they face in this process.

Methods: Internal medicine residents were surveyed about their experiences discussing resuscitation with patients including perceptions of patient understanding, outcomes of resuscitation, and regret about attempting to resuscitate patients. They were asked what features of these discussions are most important and which are the most challenging. Qualitative content analysis was used to examine the responses to open-ended questions.

Results: Fifty-five residents completed the survey. Residents reported rarely feeling satisfied with the results of these discussions and disagreed with the decision for resuscitation numerous times. They perceive that few patients and families understand resuscitation. In their description of important features, they focus on the content of the discussion rather than the process, with the most common responses centering on a description of resuscitation. In contrast, the greatest challenge they identify is dealing with the emotional aspects of the discussion.

Conclusions: Residents report internal conflict about their experiences discussing resuscitation with patients. Their approach to these discussions focuses on resuscitation itself with less attention paid to processes that might improve patient decision making. The challenges they describe may be overcome with improved education about end-of-life communication.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Directives*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Kentucky
  • Male
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Terminal Care