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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of health care professionals’ experiences of witnessed suffering Sork, Jamie


The purpose of the study was to investigate the day to day experiences of health care professionals who witness suffering in their work. The existing literature largely focuses on the negative consequences of experiencing difficult life situations involving suffering. There is less existing literature that focuses on the experiences other than vicarious trauma. Acknowledging the quantity of the existing research, the methodology chosen for this research that best addresses these issues was an exploratory phenomenological methodology. The general conclusions of this study highlight key aspects of the participants' experiences of witnessing suffering. This study identified four major themes which are; the impact of witnessing suffering, meaning making and the connection with something larger, holding a sense of duality and finally the participants' evolution over time. The first theme is the impact of witnessing suffering, which describes what these participants experienced as the look back over the many experiences of witnessing suffering. The next theme focuses on the meaning made by each participant as they witnessed suffering which includes their personal connection with something larger. This discovery highlights the pivotal role the participants' personal spiritual perspective plays throughout their work. The next theme describes the participants' experience of holding a sense of duality or holding opposing forces simultaneously as they encountered the day to day experiences of witnessing suffering. They noted how essential the holding a sense of duality is for continued engagement in their work. The final theme describes these participants evolution over time in relation to the frequent experiences of witnessing suffering day to day in their work. The changes noted include change/growth in their sense of self, physical responses, emotions, expectations, and their spiritual development. It is clear that further research is indicated to further define the factors involved and seek a greater understanding of the paradox of witnessing suffering and experiencing growth. The importance of this greater understanding has numerous implications for professional training and could also assist in reducing professional burnout and increase opportunities for professional growth and development in the future.

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