The impact of death and dying on the personhood of medical students: a systematic scoping review

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Dec 28;20(1):516. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02411-y.


Background: The re-introduction of medical students into healthcare systems struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns as to whether they will be supported when confronted with death and dying patients in resource-limited settings and with reduced support from senior clinicians. Better understanding of how medical students respond to death and dying will inform educationalists and clinicians on how to best support them.

Methods: We adopt Krishna's Systematic Evidence Based Approach to carry out a Systematic Scoping Review (SSR in SEBA) on the impact of death and dying on medical students. This structured search process and concurrent use of thematic and directed content analysis of data from six databases (Split Approach) enhances the transparency and reproducibility of this review.

Results: Seven thousand six hundred nineteen were identified, 149 articles reviewed and 52 articles included. The Split Approach revealed similar themes and categories that correspond to the Innate, Individual, Relational and Societal domains in the Ring Theory of Personhood.

Conclusion: Facing death and dying amongst their patients affect how medical students envisage their personhood. This underlines the need for timely, holistic and longitudinal support systems to ensure that problems faced are addressed early. To do so, there must be effective training and a structured support mechanism.

Keywords: Dying patients; Medical schools; Medical student; Organisational ethics; Personhood; Resilience; Ring theory of personhood; Undergraduate medical education.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / mortality
  • Curriculum
  • Death*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Personhood*
  • Research Design
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration
  • Social Support
  • Students, Medical / psychology*