How Nurses Deal with Loss
May 9, 2016
By David Sanchez, Brookdale Hospice Care Coordinator
One of the most common challenges nurses struggle with in their work is experiencing death in the workplace. Often, this experience brings the very real experience of grief, a strong sense of loss for the patient. Unfortunately this grief is often disenfranchised or unacknowledged. The nurse may find themselves having to bottle up the loss and push forward, usually that same day. As the losses come, we stack those traumas until we inevitably experience burnout or compassion fatigue. Recognizing the significance of death in the workplace and taking steps to process the losses can strengthen a nurse’s coping abilities and can help continue to make the work meaningful not draining.
Compassion comes from the Latin word “to co-suffer” and is an apt reminder that when we care for others, we can feel great pain ourselves. When we make a connection with a patient and their family we will experience loss when the patient dies. The common symptoms of grief: loss of focus, heightened emotions, fatigue, distraction, etc. can affect the life of a nurse at work and at home. Compassion fatigue occurs when we are emotionally tired but continue to do demanding physical and emotional care. It’s similar to being “in the red” and instead of stopping to re-charge our batteries, we simply chug along. Even though it’s been identified as a real experience for decades, it’s often been considered simply “the cost of care”.
The way that a nurse can support herself through the traumatization of multiple losses in the workplace is to find positive ways to express the grief. Grief needs to be expressed since the alternate approach, bottling the feelings, leads to compassion fatigue. Grief is expressed in whatever way speaks to the strength of the nurse. Sometimes nurses write a letter to patient, getting out in words their feelings of connection. Some nurses plant a garden to symbolize the people served or meet with co-workers to toast someone significant or bring in a pot luck of their favorite foods. Creating a ritual to express the grief and to celebrate the person who impacted their life helps deal with the long term effects of caregiving when death occurs.
Self-care is the other necessary component of dealing with grief and avoiding compassion fatigue. Nurses are givers by nature and learning how to take care of yourself is a critical skill. Re-charging our batteries keeps us strong as caregivers and can be done as a small, daily activity. The music we take time to listen to in our car, the treat we give ourselves at the end of the day, the breathing exercises we do as we remove our badge are all ways we can take a minute here and there to re-charge. Even taking 10 minutes to stop and drink a coffee instead of drinking as we go can make a huge difference in our mood. Self-care should be fun and energizing and individualized to the nurse.
Recognizing grief, committing time for self care, and finding support from peers can help all nurses navigate a death in the workplace so that they can continue the meaningful work of care.Share this:
Former Hospital Nurse Bonds to Senior Living
May 5, 2016
Like many nurses who’ve joined Brookdale, Whitni Allen was looking to leave behind the stress of the hospital environment and toll of being on her feet for 12-hour shifts. Allen, the health and wellness director at Brookdale Texarkana, found that a career in assisted living came with an even better benefit, the opportunity to create close bonds with the residents she cares for.
“In a long-term setting you get to know your residents and really create a relationship with them,” Allen said. “You get to know their families too. Where in the hospital setting the turnover could be daily.”
Allen’s role as a health and wellness director is a depature from more traditional nurse work, which centers on hand-on care. She uses her nurse experience to manage and make strategic decisions about the community’s direction and culture. The choice to leave the hospital scene and take a leadership position is one that Allen feels good about for a number of reasons.
“The 12-hour shifts and having to be on your feet all day is what drove me away from the hospital,” Allen said. “No one can do that forever. Plus the money is better in long-term care than it is in the hospital.”
Allen leads 10 resident care associates who provide direct care, conducts health assessments, oversees medication management and helps hire and train new team members. Building relationships is a key aspect of her job.
“I talk to residents’ families all the time,” she said. “Not only do I let them know if there is a change in their loved one’s health status, I will call when positive things happen. When a resident begins to blossom here, make new friends, get involved in new activities, I let their families know.”
Most important to Allen is creating bonds with the seniors. “When I arrive in the morning, I go into the dining room where they are having breakfast and help pass out coffee so I can say hello to everyone and see how they are. If a resident isn’t there, I check to see if they are all right. Sometimes what someone needs is a hug to let them know they are loved.”
She has suggested to other nurses that they consider working at Brookdale. “This company is concerned about its associates and does what’s needed to help us succeed. Brookdale really makes us feel appreciated.”
Search for opportunities to make a difference on our job search page.