Death anxiety (DA) is related to awareness of the reality of dying and death and can be negatively related to a person's psychological health. Physicians' DA also may influence their care for patients approaching death. Doctors face death in a professional context for the first time at medical school, but knowledge about DA among medical students is limited.
This study examined medical students' DA in relation to: 1) its severity, gender differences, and trajectory during medical education and 2) its associations with students' attitudes toward palliative care and their psychological health.
Four cohorts of core science and four cohorts of clinical students at the University of Cambridge Medical School took part in a questionnaire survey with longitudinal follow-up. Students who provided data on the revised Collett-Lester Fear of Death Scale were included in the analysis (n = 790).
Medical students' DA was moderate, with no gender differences and remained very stable over time. High DA was associated with higher depression and anxiety levels and greater concerns about the personal impact of providing palliative care.
The associations between high DA and lower psychological health and negative attitudes toward palliative care are concerning. It is important to address DA during medical education to enhance student's psychological health and the quality of their future palliative care provision.