Crying in hospitals: a survey of doctors', nurses' and medical students' experience and attitudes

Med J Aust. 1997 Jan 6;166(1):13-6. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1997.tb138695.x.


Objective: To investigate doctors', nurses' and medical students' experiences with, and attitudes of health care personnel towards, crying in hospitals.

Design: Descriptive, cross-sectional study, using self-report questionnaires.

Setting and participants: The sample comprised 52 doctors (response rate, 33%) and 103 nurses (response rate, 58%) from three Sydney metropolitan general hospitals, and 101 sixth-year medical students (response rate, 99%).

Results: Crying was frequent in hospitals; 57% of doctors, 76% of nurses and 31% of medical students had cried at work in the hospital at least once, and women cried significantly more often than men. Being a nurse significantly increased, whereas being a medical student significantly decreased, the likelihood of crying. Medical students reported the highest percentage of negative social consequences of their own crying (e.g., being ridiculed or screamed at). The main reason for all respondents' crying was identification and bonding with suffering and dying patients or their families. The respondents generally viewed crying by patients as a healthy response, and they were empathetic towards the crying patient. About one-third of the respondents were interested in (or would consider) using psychological help to explore their own emotional reactions to crying.

Conclusion: Despite its limited sample, this study suggests that the topic of "crying" should be included in medical training, and that support be provided for medical staff who are distressed by crying behaviour in hospitals.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Australia
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Crying / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses
  • Odds Ratio
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Support
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Students, Medical
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Work Schedule Tolerance