The surgeon’s response to a patient’s death

Terence O’Keeffe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Surgeons can be adversely affected following the death of a patient, and this can lead to a number of emotional and physical consequences. Surgeons may differ from other specialties due to our procedural nature, as we may feel that we are directly responsible for the patient’s death through our (well-intentioned) actions. Guilt and depression related to these feelings can all lead to problems for the surgeon trying to care for their patients, and if left unchecked, can lead to maladaptive responses, such as refuge in alcohol or other substances as well as causing significant burnout. A strong peer support network as well as close family relationships can help the surgeon in these difficult times, and a certain amount of insight is necessary to make sure that the surgeon is willing to ask for help when they need it. Burnout is finally being talked about more openly as more and more organizations recognize the issues with work-life balance and compassion fatigue, although systematic resources to provide support are slow to be put in place by hospitals, healthcare groups, and our societies. Self-awareness and the ability of the surgeon to be open about their feelings may be key to coping with this most untoward of outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSurgical Decision Making
Subtitle of host publicationBeyond the Evidence Based Surgery
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9783319298245
ISBN (Print)9783319298221
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Burnout
  • Complications
  • Coping skills
  • Death
  • Grief
  • Professional
  • Surgeons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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