The physician's professional role in end-of-life decision-making: voices of racially and ethnically diverse physicians

Patient Educ Couns. 2010 Jul;80(1):3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.10.018. Epub 2009 Nov 30.


Objective: Previous studies have shown racial/ethnic differences in preferences for end-of-life (EOL) care. We aimed to describe values and beliefs guiding physicians' EOL decision-making and explore the relationship between physicians' race/ethnicity and their decision-making.

Methods: Seven focus groups (3 Caucasian, 2 African American, 2 Hispanic) with internists and subspecialists (n=26) were conducted. Investigators independently analyzed transcripts, assigned codes, compared findings, reconciled differences, and developed themes.

Results: Four themes appeared to transcend physicians' race/ethnicity: (1) strong support for the physician's role; (2) responding to "unreasonable" requests; (3) organizational factors; and (4) physician training and comfort with discussing EOL care. Five themes physicians seemed to manage differently based on race/ethnicity: (1) preventing and reducing the burden of surrogate decision-making; (2) responding to requests for "doing everything;" (3) influence of physician-patient racial/ethnic concordance/discordance; (4) cultural differences concerning truth-telling; and (5) spirituality and religious beliefs.

Conclusions: Physicians in our multi-racial/ethnic sample emphasized their commitment to their professional role in EOL decision-making. Implicitly invoking the professional virtue of self-effacement, they were able to identify racially/ethnically common and diverse ethical challenges of EOL decision-making.

Practice implications: Physicians should use professional virtues to tailor the EOL decision-making process in response to patients' race/ethnicity, based on patients' preferences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Attitude to Death / ethnology*
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Role / psychology*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Professional Role / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Terminal Care*
  • White People / psychology