When children die: a seminar series for pediatric residents

Rochelle Bagatell, Robyn Meyer, Sandra Herron, Alice Berger, Rodrigo Villar
Pediatrics 2002, 110 (2): 348-53

OBJECTIVE: Our goals were to assist residents in acquiring skills needed to care for children at the end of life and to increase their comfort level regarding critical aspects of caring for dying children.

METHODS: We designed and implemented a 6-part seminar series for pediatric residents in their postgraduate year-2 at the University of Arizona Pediatric Residency Program. The series consisted of small group sessions regarding medical and legal issues facing physicians at the time of a pediatric patient's death, symptom management in dying children, approaches to limitation of care and discussion of impending death of a child, cultural and developmental factors impacting on the care of children at the end of life, parent and sibling bereavement after the death of a child, and physician's personal responses to the death of pediatric patients. The sessions were conducted on weekday evenings away from patient care settings and included input from community-based individuals as well as academic pediatric subspecialists. To promote active discussion, size was limited to 12 participants. Pretests and posttests were used to evaluate the success of this program. Residents' level of comfort with important issues in end-of-life care was measured using a 5-point Likert scale.

RESULTS: Although most of the residents taking part in the seminar series had previously participated in discussions of limitation of care of a child and/or had performed advanced life support measures on a child, few had any previous training in end-of-life care. Responses of the 8 participants who completed both the pretests and posttests were evaluated for assessment of changes in comfort level in areas pertinent to end-of-life care. We found that on completion of this program, residents were significantly more comfortable with logistic issues and symptom management, discussing death and limitation of medical care with families, discussing end-of-life care with colleagues and families, handling conflicts within the health care team, working with families of varying ethnic backgrounds, guiding developmentally appropriate discussions of death, identifying and seeking out advice from a role model regarding end-of-life care, and coping with their own responses to a child's death. Costs of this seminar series were minimal.

CONCLUSIONS: An inexpensive, discussion-based seminar series successfully provided pediatric residents with basic information regarding end-of-life care and significantly increased their confidence as clinicians caring for seriously ill and dying children.

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