Background The Irish Medical Council has identified gaps in knowledge and communications skills of new-entrant doctors in legal, ethical and practical aspects of end of life care.Aims To determine the frequency with which junior doctors deal with end of life care and patient death and to evaluate the impact this has on their psychological wellbeing.Design A questionnaire was distributed to junior doctors to determine the frequency with which the participants had managed a patient at end of life. An abbreviated Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist-Civilian version was used to evaluate psychological distress. Critical incident technique interviews explored the challenges of caring for patients at end of life.Setting/participants A total of 110 junior doctors in two teaching hospitals in Ireland completed the questionnaire: 39 (35.5%) interns and 71 (64.5%) senior house officers. In addition, 31 interviews were carried out with interns, senior house officers and registrars.Results The majority (81.8%) had pronounced a death with 39.4% of senior house officers doing so more than 10 times. Three quarters (75.5%) had discussed end of life with a patient's family. Of the 110 respondents that completed the posttraumatic stress disorder checklist, 11.8% screened positively for posttraumatic stress disorder. Challenges identified at interview included lack of knowledge and preparedness, difficulty communicating with family members, a lack of support and a feeling of failure.Conclusions Junior doctors are regularly carrying out tasks related to end of life care, resulting in high levels of psychological distress. Further training and a change in culture are required.