Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
We’ve all had patients who’ve died.....pdf (684 kB)

"We've all had patients who've died …": narratives of emotion and ideals of competence among junior doctors

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-25, 09:26 authored by Sophie Crowe, Ruairi BrughaRuairi Brugha
Although there is reasonably rich literature on socialisation in medical schools, few studies have investigated emotional socialisation among qualified doctors; specifically how specialist training reproduces the norms, values, and assumptions of medical culture. This article explores expressions and management of emotion in doctors' narratives of work and training for insights into how socialisation continues after graduation. The study employed qualitative methods - in-depth interviews - with fifty doctors at early and advanced stages of specialist training in teaching hospitals in Ireland. The study found that performance of competence, particularly for doctors at earlier training stages, required them to hide signs of struggle and uncertainty. Competence was associated with being emotionally tough, which involved hiding emotional vulnerability; however, some challenged the assumption that doctors should be able to transcend emotionally painful events. Tensions between this expression of competence and making time for self-care meant that the latter was often neglected. Some participants highlighted how they enjoyed more personal interactions with patients, which was juxtaposed with the expectation of being detached and an associated potential to objectify patients. This theme resonates with recent debates on "appropriate" expressions of empathy and its implications for patient-doctor relationships. The article discusses how ideas underpinning the image of medical invincibility should be questioned as part of efforts to reform medical culture and in the training of specialists in emotional wellbeing and self-care.


Health Research Board HRA_HSR/2013/318



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Published Citation

Crowe S, Brugha R. "We've all had patients who've died …": narratives of emotion and ideals of competence among junior doctors. Social Science & Medicine. 2018;215:152-159

Publication Date

30 August 2018

PubMed ID



  • Public Health and Epidemiology




  • Accepted Version (Postprint)