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Death and the health professional: Organization and defense in health care


Organizational and technological developments within the health care system have helped consolidate a power structure that dehumanizes clients and fosters defensiveness in professionals. Frequent exposure to death renders health professionals vulnerable to severe anxiety, which they may try to avoid through death denial, leaving them psychologically unable to support dying clients. Professional education, attitudes equating death with professional failure, organizational coping strategies among nurses, and staff burnout interact to perpetuate this atmosphere. As a model for learning, this article analyzes a pediatric case study to illuminate the manifestations of professional defensiveness. Finally, I consider three specific problem-solving strategies: improving morale, opening communication, and expanding professional education to include death studies and psychological study of the health organization. Bringing humanity back into the health care environment is possible to the extent that both the organization and its members are responsive and open to change.

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