How to Deal with the Death of a Patient

How can you cope with or make sense of the feelings you have following the death of a patient?

Matt Bodell
12 January 2017
elderly man in bed

Dealing with the death of your first patient can be extremely hard – many, even years after qualifying, are still not sure what to think or feel.

When a patient you have been looking after dies, many emotions may come into play and it can be difficult to make sense of the situation.


Nurses are trained to cure and care for their patients, we may feel that we have failed in that when someone dies.

Patients usually develop a closer bond with Nurses and students than with any other medical staff. You spend longer with patients than doctors and they confide in you more than others.

Sometimes the death of a patient can bring up feelings of a difficult personal loss that you have experienced.

Death is a sensitive topic and many feel it difficult to speak about.


How should you deal with these emotions?

How can you, as a Nurse, cope or make sense of the feelings you have following the death of a patient who you have been looking after?

  1. Acknowledge the death – you may find it helpful to share your feelings with colleagues, friends and family.
  2. Don’t be afraid to cry – we are only human and Nurses can become overwhelmed with emotions too.
  3. Always reflect – write down why this patients death had such an impact on you. What did you do well? What could you have done better?
  4. Grieve  – it’s not just the patients family who need to grieve. As a healthcare professional you can have a special with your patients and their death can be difficult, especially if it is unexpected.
  5. Complete Last Offices – we find this gives Nurses a sense of closure. Taking the time for wash and care for them one last time is important.
  6. Share your emotions – while the wishes of the family are paramount. Sometimes family members can gain a great deal of comfort from sharing experiences and emotions with someone who has been involved with the care of their relative.

It’s important, above all else, to understand that we are only human. We are not superheros nor robots.

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