Coping with First Patient Loss for Critical Care Nurses


October 22nd, 2010

Working as a nurse in the critical care unit means that you will be dealing with patients who are severely injured or sick. This means that there is a higher chance of mortality. While nurses are sometimes trained how to help families deal with their loved one’s death, seldom are nurses trained on how they too can deal with the loss of a patient—especially their first one. It can be a very emotional and traumatic time for a nurse when this occurs, even more so if the nurse was attached to the patient. Yes, nurses are advised not to get emotionally close to patients, but sometimes it does happen— after all nurses are human. While nothing can truly prepare you for losing your first patient until it actually happens, there are some things that can help you during the grieving process. Continue reading below to figure out ways to help you cope.

First let it be said that ‘dealing’ with a patient’s death is something that is learned over time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you happen to cry during the first few losses. But if you are a new nurse and have still not experienced your first loss yet it’s important that you try to prepare yourself for when this time comes (because it will come one day). Shadow some nurses who know they are about to lose a patient and observe them—how do they react? What do they do? What is the normal routine for post-mortem care?

When you lose your first patient it’s a good idea to seek support and information from other nurses. Find someone who you can talk about your experience with and ask how they dealt with their first loss of a patient. Developing some sort of support system right away with other people who can relate is exceptionally important since you may not have a lot of time to recuperate—meaning nurses sometimes experience deaths back-to-back.

While having a support group is very beneficial, sometimes it’s a good idea to just set aside some individual time for you to regain your composure and assess the situation. This is the perfect time for you to think, pray, cry and to simply think for example. Don’t try to bury your thoughts and emotions, take this time to reflect and feel what you are feeling.

Lastly, sometimes it’s a good idea to listen to some music—something that typically comforts you and puts you in a better mood, or better yet something that reflects the way you are feeling. Music has a way of helping people deal with emotions .

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