Coping with a Patient Death

Blog Image - Jan. 2016 - Patient Death


As most nurses know, coping with the death of a patient is one of the experiences faced by those in the profession. As strange as this may sound, when I taught basic undergraduate nursing students, I hoped each student would have to deal with the death of a patient. The experience, in the somewhat protected environment of the nursing program, allowed faculty and fellow students to provide the support needed to cope with the inevitability of the death of someone for whom the student had provided care.

It was another opportunity to help students learn important lessons needed to manage the emotions they would experience as they faced the loss of other patients during their careers.

Nurses develop bonds with patients—especially those that they interact with over a period of time. When the patient dies, the nurse feels the loss. So what can the nurse do to help cope with the feelings that accompany that loss?

  • Acknowledge the feelings of loss – don’t stifle your emotions and allow yourself to grieve.
  • Discuss you feelings with other co-workers who may be sharing your sense of loss—after all, you are not the only one who provided care for that patient.
  • Cry in an area away from other patients.
  • Make sure you get adequate rest, exercise, and nutrition—take care of yourself.
  • Don’t blame yourself for the patient’s death—you offered the best care you could.
  • Express your condolences to the family—even through online obituaries if available.
  • Pray and/or meditate—you may even offer to pray with the family as they are experiencing the loss as well.
  • Focus on what positive experiences you had with the patient and remember the support you offered to both patient and family.

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