How Nurses Deal with Loss


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.nurses (1)

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.

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Former Hospital Nurse Bonds to Senior Living


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.” nurses (1)

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.



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Nurse Finds A Sense of Purpose at Brookdale


When many people look at person living with dementia all they see is the disease. Rebecca Gawlik, a nurse at Brookdale Belle Meade’s Clare Bridge caring program in Nashville, TN, wants to change that. While Gawlik’s daily responsibilities include administering medications and helping residents take part in art, exercise and memory programs she’s made it a mission to show others that dementia patients have something to give. nurses (1)

“They deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, to live their life with dignity,” Gawlik said. “People don’t always understand that someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is still a person. They don’t see that the person used to be a pilot or a television host or a veterinaria. All they see is the disease.”

During her two years with Brookdale Gawlik has gained a deeper understanding of dementia and sees that, with the right kind of care, life can continue to be meaningful for those living with the disease. Playing such an integral role in the lives of Brookdale residents, Gawlik has built relationships with them and their families. She says the best part of her job is making connections with her patients.

“When I leave every day, I feel like I have a purpose,” Gawlik said. “I feel I did my best and that I made a difference in someone’s day.”

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Top 2 Stages I Knew Nursing Was For Me


To do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can do in spite of all we go through, is to be a nurse. – Rawsi Williams

And isn’t that the truth.  I bet everyone can agree that nursing is a job not all were meant to do.

For Bethany Pavlisko, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at Nashville’s Brookdale Belle Meade Memory Care Unit, that is not the case.  With her naturally kindhearted, highly empathetic and jovial demeanor, she was born for nursing.  You can always find her smiling, usually carrying a sweet-sounding tune, and sometimes even catch her busting a move or two (especially if she’s at a local concert in Music City).

Although this is Bethany’s first nursing job, she understands that Memory Care nursing is a delicate type of nursing–one that involves a unique level of patience, compassion and care for the residents she serves.  She knows that if one of her patients asks her the same question one hundred times in a day, she will gladly reply one hundred times back.  She is constantly putting herself in her residents’ shoes and challenging herself to be the best nurse she can be.

Are there moments that reaffirmed nursing was the field for her?  Certainly.  Find out the top two stages Bethany knew nursing was for her.

When I began applying what I learned


Sometimes it takes putting the textbooks down for a moment in order to reaffirm how humanizing and personable a profession like nursing really is. You’re treating someone in a critical time in their life.  

While applying all you’ve learned in the classroom, putting a face to the name, a story to the face and a spirit to the smile is when nursing really steps into fruition.  Although Bethany grew up hearing of the extraordinary things nurses do on a daily basis from her wide family history of nurses, it was when she finally had the opportunity to work with patients on her own when she knew nursing was for her.

Nurses don’t just treat a symptom or ailment that’s described in my school textbooks; we treat a whole person.  Textbooks can’t treat a whole person; experience can.  Because I work for Brookdale, I love sitting down with my residents and hearing about their lives.  They have all accomplished so much and have the best stories to tell!  I think that is something that can be easily overlooked, yet all of my colleagues at Brookdale also go that extra mile for the residents and that reaffirms to me that I not only chose the right career but also the right place to work.  Working in senior living has allowed me to work with the same patients and build relationships with them over the time I spend with them.  We want to make sure all the residents feel at home at all times, so I make sure one of my patients gets her preferred morning banana before her meds and take time to give manicures to female residents.

As a nurse we go into this field knowing we will not always be thanked for our work, and we are okay with that.  But what feels beyond great to me is knowing my residents feel safe and secure.  When I can sit with a resident who is tearful and make them smile or laugh, I know that I chose the right job path for myself.

When I realized my passion went past my shift


Her passion for being a hands-on nurturer doesn’t stop when she leaves her community after her full-time shifts.  When Bethany says she’s passionate about helping others, she really means it.  

Without many breaks Bethany also nannies full-time helping two young girls, ages 3 and 5, who lovingly refer to her as “Bah.”  She’s involved in everything from reading stories to performing choreographed, at-home dance recitals with them.   That’s two full-time positions (80+ hours/week), folks.  And her energy for helping others doesn’t stop there.  Bethany also volunteers with Best Buddies of Tennessee, joining others in helping those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It’s simple–when I can help others feel good, I feel good.  I’ve always been extremely passionate about this and do all that I can to notice, empathize and ask myself what I can do to make another person’s life easier, healthier and happier.


Although nursing wasn’t a job all were meant to do, it’s a job that is very rewarding with endless opportunity for those who were meant to do it.  In honor of National Nurses Week, which began Wednesday, May 6, 2015, Brookdale celebrates our over 9,000 nurses nationwide for their dedication in bringing exceptional care to our residents.  Brookdale wishes all of our nurses and nurses beyond Brookdale a very Happy #NursesWeek.  Thank you for all that you do.

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Amanda Jones Wins 2015 AANAC Nursing Assistant of the Year Scholarship

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Brookdale’s Sterling House in Derby, Kansas associate, Amanda Jones, is the winner for 2015’s Nursing Assistant of the Year scholarship from Cerner and The American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC).  Amanda will also be recognized at AANAC’s annual conference in New Orleans and featured in their yearly calendar of nursing assistants.

Katie Gleichman, executive director of Sterling House of Derby who also nominated her for the award, describes Amanda as “a living example of the culture we live by.”

We caught up with Amanda to learn more.

How did you become interested in nursing?
When I was little, I helped my grandparents.  My mom told me I’d be a great nurse someday.  Now, I’m a student at Butler Community College, a full-time Brookdale certified nurse assistant and administrative assistant and an applicant to nursing schools in order to live out what my mom saw early on.

How did you find out you won?
Ms. Gleichman called me in for a typical conference call, but she surprised me with a call from AANAC telling me I won! I was speechless and started crying.

What motivates you?
My family motivates me and are always giving me good advice. One thing I’ve learned is to just keep going, which is why I go to school all year-round.

Does Brookdale fit into your nursing goals?
Yes, Brookdale allowed me to grow.  First, there’s good teamwork here.  You get recognized for so much. It helps that they hire within, too, such as when I got my transfer promotion.  Second, I know school can be expensive, so Brookdale has tuition reimbursement programs to help me through.

Any advice for aspiring nurses?
Be yourself, wear a smile and always have fun! I practice having the most motivated attitude possible. If I see another associate having a bad day, I’ll cheer them up with a cup of coffee or another treat. If a resident needs something, I stop everything I’m doing to help.  If I don’t know the answer, I problem solve with another associate.  If you have a big heart, I’d highly recommend anything in the medical field. You get to help others everyday, and it makes you feel good.


So Amanda, as you get ready for your trip to New Orleans to be recognized for this scholarship, the Brookdale family wants to not only congratulate you on this terrific achievement but also thank you for all you do.  This scholarship is an excellent way to demonstrate your talent and dedication.

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Top 3 Things I Wish New Home Health Nurses Understood


Being new to your career can be tough, and—no matter your field—sometimes asking questions from those with many years’ experience can be intimidating. That’s why we’ve tracked down a 25-year Home Health Care Executive Director for transparent answers to a question many new home health nurses are eager to understand.

The question:  What am I expected to know up front?  Her answers may surprise you.


1. Remember to breathe.

You’re not expected to know everything. It’s going to take a while for you to understand the many facets of home healthcare. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You will get it and learn to love it.

2. Embrace learning opportunities.

Carry humility and humor about being new. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know how to do something and need guidance. The home health educators, supervisors, and directors love to teach those new to home health. Use the Brookdale family as an opportunity to learn from a larger volume of home health professionals.

3. Listen but know your worth.

There’s a reason we were given two ears and one mouth. Listen to other nurses’ experiences, while still trusting that you have something very valuable to offer.


So new home health nurses, remember to breathe, take advantage of learning opportunities, and trust your value.

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