BMC health services research 2017 12 0417(Suppl 2) 700 doi 10.1186/s12913-017-2646-9
Health practitioners frequently encounter dying, death and suffering. While providing health care can be stressful, the literature on how different health practitioners cope with the emotional challenges associated with their work is sparse. Further, much of this literature is based on studies conducted in high-income countries. In this study, we explored emotional distress and associated coping strategies among health practitioners working in a pediatric oncology department in a large teaching hospital in Lomé, Togo.
We undertook a cross-sectional qualitative research involving in-depth interviews with 21 health practitioners (doctors, nurses, and nursing assistants) as well as facility-based observations Interview data were collected using a semi-structured discussion guide. All interviews were audio-recorded while observational notes were hand-written and ultimately typed. All data were transcribed, coded and analyzed thematically.
We found that practitioners experienced significant emotional distress. Their emotional distress was compounded by the seriousness of the illnesses they treated, the lack of appropriate medical equipment, and treatment failures that caused their patients to suffer. The health practitioners’ narratives suggested that a key reason for their emotional distress was a mismatch between their professional training and the realities of providing care in a resource-constrained setting. They also reported not receiving any training on how to cope with the emotional stresses associated with care and preventable patient deaths.
Caring for patients is a source of significant emotional distress. The emotional stress experienced by health practitioners is compounded in resource-limited settings where weak health systems undermine practitioners’ ability to provide quality care. Results underscore the need to train health professionals to positively cope with the emotional stresses associated with patient care and for health systems improvements to ensure quality care.