Most Cancer Physicians Feel Inadequately Trained in Reaching Out to Bereaved Family

While 70 percent of surveyed cancer physicians reach out to bereaved family and caregivers of patients who have died, more than two-thirds do not feel they received adequate training in this area during their residency or fellowship.

An anonymous online pilot survey was completed by 162 attending radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and palliative care physicians who were directly involved in patient care in fall 2010. The results of this survey were presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.


The study found that sending a condolence letter was by far the most common form of follow-up. Other physicians initiated activities included making a telephone call to families or attending a funeral service after a patient's death.

Several factors made an individual more likely to perform active follow-up, including being a medical oncologist (compared to radiation oncologists and palliative care physicians), having access to a palliative care program and feeling the responsibility to write a condolence letter. The most commonly perceived barriers to bereavement follow-up include lack of time, uncertainty as to which family member to contact and a lack of bereavement support resources.

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