Thanatophobia and opiophobia of hospice nurses compared with that of other caregivers

J M Merrill, A Dale, J I Thornby
American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care 2000, 17 (1): 15-23
In meeting national needs for our terminally ill, health care educators need to become more aware of their students' aptitudes for hospice work. For these reasons we measured hospice nurses' attitudes toward caring for the terminally ill and their views on using opioids, and compared them to those of other health care personnel and their students. Thirty-eight hospice nurses, 64 other nurses, 93 physicians, and 676 senior medical students participated in this study. Our primary measures were scales assessing thanatophobia and opiophobia and a battery of personal and professional role trait measures. Our results indicated that in providing end-of-life care, hospice nurses expressed less discomfort, helplessness, and frustration, and indicated less reluctance to use opioids than did any of the other groups surveyed. Overall, these hospice nurses had 35 percent lower opiophobia and 55 percent lower thanatophobia scores than the other health care professionals. Despite dealing with issues of death and dying on a daily basis, hospice nurses also scored lower on depressed mood. In caring for the terminally ill, hospice nurses' other personal traits were also less maladaptive than those of the other health professionals. Psychiatrists exhibited the most opiophobia, not only scoring higher than physicians practicing oncology, but also higher than senior medical students. To assure cancer patients that they can expect to live their lives free of pain, medical educators can use these thanatophobia and opiophobia scales to develop better teaching, counseling, and monitoring strategies.

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