The challenges of caring for a dying doctor reflect both common issues
in helping the terminally ill and unique problems in working with a physician-patient.
The dying doctor must deal with a familiar environment and set of problems
from a radically different perspective and must negotiate overlapping and
conflicting personal and professional roles. Some of the cardinal virtues
of physicians—professional identity, expertise, perfectionism, selflessness,
and stoicism—may pose both strengths and liabilities in the patient's
role. The treating physicians may also encounter new strains in caring for
a colleague. They must guard against both overinvolvement and underinvolvement,
and, as with all dying persons, they must serve as a guide through unfamiliar
territory for dying patient and family—a companion who is not afraid
to listen to or explore the most upsetting matters, a person who can speak
frankly when others may be ignoring "the horse on the dining room table."
The case of Dr B, an internist dying of myelofibrosis and congestive heart
failure, whose son is also a physician, offers the reader the opportunity
to reflect on these challenges and to draw lessons about how to best care
for fellow physicians at a time of great need. We suggest strategies for negotiating
the patient-physician relationship when the patient is also a physician.