Reflections on the Terminality of Life with Undergraduate Medical Students

Priscelly Cristina Castro Brito Izaura Mariana Sobreiro Dênia Amélia Novato Castelli von Atzingen José Vitor da Silva Adriana Rodrigues dos Anjos Mendonça About the authors



Death and dying are daily relevant themes for health care professionals and medical students. Nonetheless, since their first years of graduation, students are contrived to supplant the holistic conception of human beings and life in favor of enhancing the technical aspects of the medical profession.


Therefore, in face of the few opportunities to enquire about these future professionals’ feelings and comprehensions toward life terminality, we pursued their perceptions through the application of a semi-structured questionnaire. Ten students from each year of the medical course at UNIVAS were interviewed, encompassing 60 scholars. Students should be regularly enrolled in the medical course, as well as give their consent, by signing the Consent Term, to participate in the study. The interviews took place at the institution and the material containing students’ responses was fully destroyed afterwards. Their responses were analyzed based on the Discourse of the Collective Subject Method.


The idea of terminality being properly the “end of life” was paramount among the years, situation with which a great amount of the scholars (58%) admitted not being prepared to deal with, due to the lack of reflections about death, its psychological aspects and repercussions in the academic context. Interestingly, about 16% of the scholars considered themselves prepared to deal with someone’s death, although they were not prepared to intervene in the actual process. This is reinforced by the fact that students must deal with the real scenario of giving undesirable news without previously being prepared to do so, by means of reflecting upon a hypothetical related to the “life-death binomial”.


Thus, it seems necessary to create spaces in the curriculum that yield not only theoretical-practical but also affective support in situations related to terminality. The proposal of a theoretical-practical education based on palliative care amid the learning programs would shape confident attitudes of future health care professionals towards care.

Medical education; Palliative Care; Bioethics; Terminally ill; Death

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