The impact of caring for dying patients in intensive care units on a physician's personhood: a systematic scoping review

Philos Ethics Humanit Med. 2020 Nov 25;15(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s13010-020-00096-1.


Background: Supporting physicians in Intensive Care Units (ICU)s as they face dying patients at unprecedented levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic is critical. Amidst a dearth of such data and guided by evidence that nurses in ICUs experience personal, professional and existential issues in similar conditions, a systematic scoping review (SSR) is proposed to evaluate prevailing accounts of physicians facing dying patients in ICUs through the lens of Personhood. Such data would enhance understanding and guide the provision of better support for ICU physicians.

Methods: An SSR adopts the Systematic Evidenced Based Approach (SEBA) to map prevailing accounts of caring for dying patients in ICUs. To enhance the transparency and reproducibility of this process, concurrent and independent use of tabulated summaries, thematic analysis and directed content analysis (Split Approach) is adopted.

Results: Eight thousand three hundred fifty-eight abstracts were reviewed from four databases, 474 full-text articles were evaluated, 58 articles were included, and the Split Approach revealed six categories/themes centered around the Innate, Individual, Relational and Societal Rings of Personhood, conflicts in providing end of life care and coping mechanisms employed.

Conclusion: This SSR suggests that caring for dying patients in ICU impacts how physicians view their personhood. To resolve conflicts within individual concepts of personhood, physicians use prioritization, reframing and rely on accessible, personalized support from colleagues to steer coping strategies. An adapted form of the Ring Theory of Personhood is proposed to direct timely personalized, appropriate and holistic support.

Keywords: Death and dying; Intensive care unit (ICU); Personhood; Physicians; Resilience; Ring theory of personhood (RToP).

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Personhood*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Terminal Care*