A medical student Death Café, facilitated by Irish Hospice Foundation, placed runner up in the Education Innovation Award category at Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) on 21st June. It is believed to be the first ever Death Cafe for medical students in the country–just the day prior the Irish Times published an extensive and favorable article on the Death Cafe, and the student-choice module it contributed to, called Death, Dying and Bereavement. You can find that article here if you are an Irish Times subscriber.
Over three hours, with tea and coffee, cakes and treats, students were encouraged to think about mortality–not only of their future patients but also their own. Lecturer Eric Clarke and fourth-year student Meghan Gipson conceptualised the module in an effort to get medical students to learn about these challenging aspects of the field they are about to enter. Clarke, who is a Bereavement Support Line volunteer and who earned an MSc in Bereavement and Loss from Irish Hospice Foundation, is a longtime advocate for student learning on the topic. Gipson, who plans to work in Palliative Care, will be the President of the Palliative Care Society at RCSI next year.
At the invite of RCSI, Valerie Smith, Public Engagement Lead at Irish Hospice Foundation, facilitated the morning-long death café. Students engaged with questions such as ’What would you want sung or read at your funeral?’ which prompted them into more meaningful, sometimes humorous, and always thoughtful conversations about their experiences, fears and wishes. Some students shared about how thinking about death made them think about how they wanted to live; others shared about cultural differences, and many left feeling more lighthearted than they had anticipated.
Feedback from students was massively impressive, with 95% saying they would recommend a Death Cafe to friends. Interest from other educators has also come pouring in. Clarke, Gipson and Smith all hope that death cafes for medical students, and other means to introduce these topics to future healthcare professionals as early as possible, will become commonplace in the future. IHF congratulates the students of the inaugural module for their courage, and to RCSI for bringing the module on death to life.