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Some medical professionals work in areas where they are exposed to death often (say, E.R, O.R, Cancer Treatment, etc.), specifically in an area where they bond with the patient and the patients' families over a long period of time, such as cancer treatment.

  • Does such exposure sometimes cause psycopathic/sociopathic behavior, shizophrenia, apathy, and other mental and emotional scarring?
  • Does such exposure cause changes to thoughts on death significantly?
  • In an attempt to numb this pain, would the subjects be more likely to believe excessively and obsessively in religion and the afterlife? (Please don't take offense if you are religious.)

Of course I'm not saying that all subjects in this situation would display these symptoms, but depending on pre-existing conditions I wonder whether some are more susceptible to emotional trauma than others.

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  • $\begingroup$ that would be a good question alone also, "would the subjects be more likely to believe excessively and obsessively in religion and the afterlife" $\endgroup$ – Greg McNulty Jun 6 '13 at 22:39
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I can offer a case study - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, creator of the infamous "Kubler-Ross Model" or "five stages of grief" (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). Her entire career as a psychiatrist was spent working with terminally ill patients and their grieving families. She strongly believed in a life after death and outer-body experiences, and worked with a man at her Healing Centre who claimed to be able to contact people after they had passed over. This was of course a sham, you can read more about it here.

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I believe, and I do not know if good quality epidemiological evidence exists, that such situations may trigger abnormal illness representations among medical professionals. Factitious disorders, for instance, I believe could be some way to deflect depression in some individuals. Along with abnormal illness representations could also come abnormal moral representations of illness, which, if not outright religious, links in somewhat with the notion of salvation.

Studies concerning abnormal illness representations are usually concerned with patient's illness representations. I see no epidemiological studies or data concerning the illness representations of medical staff, would be medical staff, or former medical staff (for instance, those who quit after traumatic experiences with patients) when they present as patients. Indeed, calling into question the illness representations of medical staff is not exactly politically correct. It's even a rather effective way to get you labelled as psychotic in some flavour or another.

However, from a clinical perspective, (i.e. with a clinical bias) a risk factor for factitious disorder is when someone has or has had a professional wish of working in the health care field. Such as a medical doctor who went into depression after a patient died and who did not fully get over it...

I'd love to know what data there really is out there to back up this clinical claim. Best I could find is Lois Krahn's work at Mayo Clinic:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12777276

To me, this is an extreme manifestation of more common mental issues affecting medical professionals.

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