What they didn’t teach you in nursing school Part 2: People Die

The following link is for those of you who would like to view Part 1 of the “What they didn’t teach you in nursing school” series:

Part 1: How to duck punches.

Part 2: People Die.

I can remember vividly the first patient I had that died during my care. I remember this person’s name, face, even final words. After years of having countless patients pass away, why, you might ask, do I remember this one specifically? I can tell you why:

Because I didn’t know what to do.

I received my nursing education from one of the top schools in the country. Aside from a slide show presentation one day, I never encountered death as a reality in nursing. When you get into nursing or any healthcare profession, typically you want to help people, you want to make them better. It is a shocking day when you realize you cannot help everyone—and that people die.

From my humble position and experience, I will pose the following tips for healthcare professionals in dealing with patient deaths:

  • It is ok to be upset. This person before you has a family—people who love and care for them and who will be distraught when they find out. This is tragic. Just because you are a nurse or healthcare professional does not exclude you from human emotion.
  • Be present with the family. Do not take the first opportunity to leave the room. Sometimes the simple presence of a caring individual can help the family member realize they are not alone. Don’t feel like you have to say something to make them feel better. Often, these utterances do not help. Before the family leaves, make sure to tell them you are very sorry for their loss.
  • Do not be “tough”. If you are having a hard time dealing with a death, seek help. Finding things to numb the emotion will only hinder your career—you may become jaded and cynical. Seek counsel from a respected colleague or friend. Take care of your mental health so that you will continue to have the capacity to care for others.
  • Hospice is a good thing. During the many times we have found ourselves breaking ribs in a patient during chest compressions, we can’t help but wish this patient was not a full code. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of lives have been saved by our life sustaining methods. I love that. What I don’t love is the fact that we sometimes don’t address these issues with the family members of the patients we know won’t make it. Lets not forget to discuss hospice when the time is right—to promote comfort and dignity in the dying process.

To the new healthcare professional: I hope this helps.

To the more seasoned professionals: any other tips?


One Comment on “What they didn’t teach you in nursing school Part 2: People Die

  1. Pingback: What They Didn’t Teach You in Nursing School Series 2: Shift Workers are a Strange Breed « SarahBethRN

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