Hematologists and oncologists (HO) face mortality daily. “Death Cafe” (DC) is a safe space set aside for open dialogue about death and dying. Despite origins outside the healthcare setting, DC has been used as a framework to help health care students and workers process death and dying. We aim to assess if DC sessions are perceived to have value by HO trainees and faculty.
HO fellows from Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and HO Faculty from BCM, mostly those at the Houston Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Hospital (VA), were offered the opportunity to participate in the DC sessions. Our VA Cancer Center Chaplain was present for all sessions and helped facilitate the conversation. HO fellows who were invited to a DC and attended were emailed a survey questionnaire after the activity via survey monkey. The sessions and the surveys were not compulsory. Their participation in the session and completion of surveys implied informed consent. After IRB approval, we reviewed responses for the study groups. Sessions were held in person pre-pandemic in 2019 and virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022.
Five fellows responded to our survey in 2019 and 7 in 2022 for a total of 12 respondents. 100% of respondents had been emotionally affected by a patient’s death. 82% had been emotionally affected by a patient’s death during the preceding 3 months. 90% had previously discussed their emotions relating to patient death with others. 83% would participate in DC again and 92% would recommend DC to a colleague. One 2019 participant commented that they thought attendings needed the session more than fellows, 2 2022 participants commented that they believe the meeting would be better in person. One 2022 participant commented they thought DC “is a good platform to vent emotions, identify self-destructive thoughts and better coping mechanisms.”
DC provides a framework for HC to share personal and professional experience with mortality from a human perspective and support each other. This approach may be useful for HO departments or fellowships to offer as an opportunity to process end-of-life matters experienced as providers and finite humans.