Original Publication
Open Access

Death on the Wards: Preparing Medical Students for Clinical and Clerical Duties

Published: October 16, 2012 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9254

Included in this publication:

  • Appendix A PowerPoint.ppt
  • Appendix B PowerPoint Speaker Guide.doc
  • Appendix C Handouts.doc
  • Appendix D Role Play Exercises.doc
  • Appendix E Assessment Tools.doc
  • Instuctor Guide.doc

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Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


Introduction: The aftermath of a patient’s death is an emotional time for both the medical team and the patient’s family and should be handled with the utmost professionalism. While most medical schools include instruction about death and dying, specific training on physician responsibilities after a patient’s death is lacking. The purpose of this student-initiated project was to improve medical students’ familiarity about what to do after a patient’s death and increase confidence in carrying out these duties. Methods: Workshop topics and activities were modified from those in residency training, including information about completing death certificates and communicating with families about autopsies, organ donation, and generally about the death of a loved one. Instruction included an interactive PowerPoint lecture, handouts, and individual and small-group activities (e.g., role-plays). Self-assessment tools include pre- and postworkshop questionnaires evaluating knowledge and confidence in performing physicians’ tasks after a patient’s death. Results: The workshop was presented to 24 third-year medical students who evaluated the experience and faculty leadership regarding session format, content, quality of facilitator skills, and the usefulness of the workshop. Results showed significant improvement in knowledge about the clerical skills and confidence in performing these responsibilities after a patient’s death. The most useful aspect of the workshop appeared to be role-play and death certificate exercises. Discussion: Teaching medical students before they enter residency about the roles and responsibilities they will encounter after the death of a patient is crucial for a more favorable experience between the patient’s family and the health care team.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this workshop, learners will be able to:

  1. Examine a patient to determine death and assist with decision making regarding autopsy requests and organ donations.
  2. Recognize and document a death, correctly fill out a death certificate, and understand guidelines for calling a coroner or organ procurement organization.
  3. Inform a deceased patient’s family in a comforting, informative manner.
  4. Communicate both sudden and expected deaths with family members.
  5. Recognize personal and professional views and emotions surrounding the topic of death and how they may affect a physician’s abilities in the aftermath of a patient’s death.
  6. Write a condolence letter.
  7. Locate resources for bereaving family members including pastoral care, child life services, and social workers.

Author Information

  • Katherine Anne Schultes, MD: Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • Norma Saks, EdD: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

None to report.

None to report.


Schultes K, Saks N. Death on the wards: preparing medical students for clinical and clerical duties. MedEdPORTAL. 2012;8:9254. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9254