Coping With Patient Death (Guest Blogger)

Experiencing patient death is common for some nursing specialties and rare in others. Some patient deaths are more difficult for us to grieve and process than others, and it never seems to just “get easier.” Some patients we will have cared for and known for a long time, others just a short period. Some will remind us of our loved ones or ourselves.

Either way, finding meaningful ways to cope with patient death is important to decrease emotional exhaustion which is one of the top reasons for nursing burnout. Each nurse is different and whether you’re spiritual or religious or not, it is important for your own health and happiness to find an individualized way to help you grieve the loss.





Below are just a few ideas of ways to meaningfully cope with patient death:

  • Remember to self-reflect
    • Take a moment of silence, say a silent prayer, or meditate at the end of the shift or after exiting the patient’s room. Some find it helpful to take a deep breath when the exit the patients room, others may find it helpful to take a moment of silence before they turn their car on to go home after their shift has ended. Take a moment to reflect on your feelings.


  • Remember it’s good to talk.
    • Process the death with your co-workers, hospital chaplain, or other designated grieving team. Many organizations will have a team or employees for staff support through tough times. Seek out these resources and don’t be shy to utilize them. Remember it is OK to reach out to others who are there to help. Remember if you’re struggling, it’s a good possibility that some of your other co-workers are struggling to process the death too. Resist the urge to bottle your emotions


  • Remember your purpose and that you are making a difference.
    • Remind yourself of why you became a nurse in the beginning. Why your job of caring for the sick and dying is so vital. When you’re washing your hands, remind yourself of the sacred job of caring for others that your hands are doing each and every day at work. Remember your passion for nursing and how significant of a role you played in that patient and patient’s family life through this journey. You can be a large source of comfort to a patient’s family and grieving with the family may be a way to help both parties.


  • Remember self-care & replenish.
    • Participate in hobbies and other self-care activities outside of work to reduce the inevitable stress nurses face every single day.


  • Remember to grieve in an individualized way.
    • Find an individualized way to help you grieve – whether that be attending church on Sunday or going on a hike on Sunday. Attend events held by your hospital/organization or another organization to remember patients, such as races or walks to raise awareness and/or funding for certain conditions. Remember it’s also OK to not go to the funeral, or to attend the funeral when welcomed. No nurse grieves the same, and you should find what works best for you.





Allnurses, (2017). 6 Strategies to Help you Cope after Losing a Patient. Allnurses. Retrieved from:


Ameritech, (2015). How to Cope with Loss as a Nurse. Ameritech College of Healthcare. Retrieved from:


Brown, T. (2017). Meaningful Ways to Cope With Patient Death. Medscape. Retrieved from:


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GUEST BLOGGER: Samantha Ault is a a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner student at The Ohio State University. She graduates this May. Currently, she is a RN at Harding.