Impact of Death Work on Self: Existential and Emotional Challenges and Coping of Palliative Care Professionals

Wallace Chi Ho Chan, Agnes Fong, Karen Lok Yi Wong, Doris Man Wah Tse, Kam Shing Lau, Lai Ngor Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Palliative care professionals, such as social workers, often work with death and bereavement. They need to cope with the challenges on "self" in working with death, such as coping with their own emotions and existential queries. In this study, the authors explore the impact of death work on the self of palliative care professionals and how they perceive and cope with the challenges of self in death work by conducting a qualitative study. Participants were recruited from the palliative care units of hospitals in Hong Kong. In-depth interviews were conducted with 22 palliative care professionals: five physicians, 11 nurses, and six social workers. Interviews were transcribed to text for analysis. Emotional challenges (for example, aroused emotional distress from work) and existential challenges (for example, shattered basic assumptions on life and death) were identified as key themes. Similarly, emotional coping (for example, accepting and managing personal emotions) and existential coping (for example, rebuilding and actualizing life-and-death assumptions) strategies were identified. This study enhances the understanding of how palliative care professionals perceive and cope with the challenges of death work on the self. Findings may provide insights into how training can be conducted to enhance professionals' self-competence in facing these challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalHealth and Social Work
Issue number1
Early online date27 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

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