Engaging Mortality: Effective Implementation of Dignity Therapy

Diana J. Wilkie*, George Fitchett, Yingwei Yao, Tasha Schoppee, Marvin O. Delgado Guay, Joshua Hauser, Sheri Kittelson, Sean O’Mahony, Michael Rabow, Tammie Quest, Sheldon Solomon, George Handzo, Harvey Max Chochinov, Linda L Emanuel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Patients consider the life review intervention, Dignity Therapy (DT), beneficial to themselves and their families. However, DT has inconsistent effects on symptoms and lacks evidence of effects on spiritual/ existential outcomes. Objective: To compare usual outpatient palliative care and chaplain-led or nurse-led DT for effects on a quality-of-life outcome, dignity impact. Design/Setting/Subjects: In a stepped-wedge trial, six sites in the United States transitioned from usual care to either chaplain-led or nurse-led DT in a random order. Of 638 eligible cancer patients (age ‡55 years), 579 (59% female, mean age 66.4 – 7.4 years, 78% White, 61% stage 4 cancer) provided data for analysis. Methods: Over six weeks, patients completed pretest/posttest measures, including the Dignity Impact Scale (DIS, ranges 7–35, low-high impact) and engaged in DT+usual care or usual care. They completed procedures in person (steps 1–3) or via Zoom (step 4 during pandemic). We used multiple imputation and regression analysis adjusting for pretest DIS, study site, and step. Results: At pretest, mean DIS scores were 24.3 – 4.3 and 25.9 – 4.3 for the DT (n = 317) and usual care (n = 262) groups, respectively. Adjusting for pretest DIS scores, site, and step, the chaplain-led (b = 1.7, p = 0.02) and nurse-led (b = 2.1, p = 0.005) groups reported significantly higher posttest DIS scores than usual care. Adjusting for age, sex, race, education, and income, the effect on DIS scores remained significant for both DT groups. Conclusion: Whether led by chaplains or nurses, DT improved dignity for outpatient palliative care patients with cancer. This rigorous trial of DT is a milestone in palliative care and spiritual health services research. Clinicaltrials.gov: NCT03209440.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-184
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • General Nursing


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