Grief is an inevitable part of your job as a healthcare professional. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, paramedics, EMTs — all will experience a difficult loss at some point in their careers. When emergency pediatric care is involved, or if the emergency is extremely taxing, any loss can be extremely difficult.
Coping with these situations is a topic not often discussed in healthcare training. While it is important to remain positive and always work for successful outcomes, it is equally essential that medical professionals are prepared to properly process the emotions that come from a negative outcome.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Grief
The grief you feel when you lose a patient is real. Vitas Healthcare reminds those in healthcare that, “[d]ealing with loss is not part of a physician’s training. Unlike patients’ loved ones, medical professionals often don’t have access to grief counseling; sometimes they don’t even have time to reflect on their feelings regarding the death.”
It is healthy and important to allow yourself to feel that pain and loss. Avoiding your feelings or leaving them unacknowledged can result in developing a negative self-image or unhealthy ideas about how grief should be handled.
Instead, here are a few methods for acknowledging and accepting your grief:
- Don’t go it alone. Find a trusted family member, friend, or colleague and share your experience. Talk about the difficulties you faced. What went wrong during your PALS, BLS, or other medical intervention? Don’t be afraid to be honest, admit mistakes, or cry. Crying is a healthy way to release and process your emotions.
- Reflect and remember your patient. Take time to reflect on what you knew about your patient and who they were. You may take time to talk with their family, attend their funeral, or even light a candle in their memory.
- Recognize other people’s grief. Remember that you are not the only person grieving this patient’s passing. Members of your team and members of your patient’s family are also processing their feelings in their own way. Don’t take it personally if someone reacts in anger.
- Dedicate time to self-care. A pediatric loss can be traumatic. Recognize what you have been through, and dedicate some time to your own self-care.
Rely on Healthcare Grief Support Groups
Don’t blame yourself personally. This will erode your self-esteem and confidence. One of the best ways to avoid self-blame is through the support of others. Many in medicine understand what you might be going through and have created life-changing resources for those grieving or struggling with PTSD after an emergency. If you’re having trouble setting up an appointment with a therapist, working through grief independently, or voicing your concerns to friends or family, you might want to give the following groups a chance:
Unlike other grief support groups, EMTLife provides a platform for emergency responders, EMTs, NREMTs, AEMTs, and paramedics to voice their concerns about any aspect of the job. As a forum, it allows emergency responders from all over the world to join the conversation and provide support tactics to deal with grief, transitions, and inquiries with positivity.
Designed for physicians experiencing grief with a patient death or other traumatic scenarios, Vital Work Life Peer Support Group gives doctors the option to chat over the phone to a coach or peer as an effective healthcare support group alternative. This program is interested in providing long-term solutions to doctors and healthcare practitioners with consultants, programs, and online coaching.
By creating an online community for anyone immersed in the healthcare community, Beyond My Battle provides monumental support online and in-person. Doctors, nurses, caregivers, emergency responders, and those with rare diseases and disabilities can find comfort through their program and resources.
The forYOU Team is a healthcare grief support group that has inspired other groups across the US to start their own programs. By offering tools, counseling, and a variety of coping resources to caregivers, the forYOU Team instills confidence in healthcare providers to pick themselves up, find sanctuary in their peers, and seek creative solutions for their coping toolboxes. They’re currently available through the University of Missouri but can offer tools and resources to anyone who reaches out.
Remember, you will make it through this. Your years of training and experience have provided you with peers and trusted members of the medical community to call upon should you need them. Reflect upon the times when your interventions were successful, and remind yourself that you have plenty of life-saving care yet to give. Work to let the feelings of guilt and failure go.
Make This a Learning Experience
The best way to remember your patients is to learn from the experience. Use this loss to make yourself a better caregiver.
Step back from the situation and analyze what happened. Identify what went wrong. Determine if there is any way that those mistakes could have been avoided. Use this knowledge to inform your decisions moving forward. Talk to supervisors about any concerns or insights you might have as your experience can help shape protocols for the future.
But also remember to have a healthy, compassionate view of yourself and the situation. No one is superhuman. If you did all you could for your patient, take that as comfort, and find ways where you can ensure you do your best in the future as well. There’s a reason healthcare providers take ACLS recertifications, PALS recertifications, and BLS recertifications every two years. Best practices change, providers forget, and we all need to refresh our knowledge and skills. Refamiliarizing yourself with CPR for pediatric patients, other advanced life support options, best practices, and protocols will help increase your confidence after a loss.
- Hospice Basics. How to Cope when Your Patient Dies. Vitas Healthcare. Feb 1, 2017. https://www.vitas.com/for-healthcare-professionals/making-the-rounds/2017/february/how-to-cope-when-your-patient-dies/
- EMTLIFE. Homepage. Emtlife.com. 2004. https://emtlife.com/
- Vital Work Life. Physical Well Being Resources. VITAL WorkLife. 2020. https://www.vitalworklife.com/solutions/physician-well-being-resources/
- Beyond My Battle. Online Community–Beyond My Battle. Beyondmybattle.org. Date unknown. Date accessed Feb. 21, 2020. https://www.beyondmybattle.org/online-community
- forYOU Team. forYOU Team – MU Health Care. muhealth.org. https://www.muhealth.org/about-us/quality-care-patient-safety/office-of-clinical-effectiveness/foryou