The Ugly Truth: How Do Nurses Cope With The Death Of A Patient?

Nurses deal with overwhelming occupational stress, anxiety, and emotional conflict while handling their day-to-day responsibilities. This stress stems from nursing patients fighting chronic and acute illnesses and watching them lose the battle against death. 

It’s natural for nurses to invest every fiber into patient care to ensure positive treatment outcomes. However, some patients succumb to the severity of their illness despite the dedicated care of nursing professionals. Dealing with the death of a patient isn’t easy, and nurses struggle with emotional and mental discomfort. 

Nurses absorb the stress in healthcare settings like sponges as they provide emotional support to aggrieved caregivers and loved ones. 

Nurse practitioners stationed in the ER deal with life-and-death emergencies each day. One would assume that they become immune to seeing people struggling with death, but that’s not the case. 

How do nurses cope with the death of a patient? Keep reading to find out. 

Reducing Occupational Stress 

Emotional anguish and stress can take a toll on the body and overall wellbeing, especially if you encounter death day after night. Watching someone fall in the clutches of death after putting up an intense fight is emotionally and mentally tumultuous. Even if you’re not emotionally attached to your patient, watching their struggle so closely has a profound impact. 

It’s not easy for a nurse to avoid emotional attachments with patients and caregivers, given the comforting nature of their profession. But if occupational stress is negatively impacting your health and wellbeing, it’s wise to expand your career choices. Many practitioners pursue primary care roles to work directly with families and children and avoid emotionally charged situations. 

Practitioners can pursue an MSN family nurse practitioner degree to enjoy clinical authority and a healthy work-life balance. Experienced FNPs can open their own practice to escape the trauma and stress of hospital emergencies. 

FNPs are rapidly taking over the primary care duties of physicians, leading communities towards improved health and life quality. They enjoy standard 9-5 shifts with flexible working hours and rewarding engagement with families and communities. Balancing an MSN program with a full-time nursing role isn’t easy, but taking the e-learning route offers many advantages. You can pursue higher education to advance your career without massive financial and academic burdens. 

Changing your career trajectory with a primary care specialization will work wonders at reducing occupational stress with rewarding patient engagement. 

Take Time to Grieve 

Nurses who specialize in surgical training or cardiac care don’t have the luxury to avoid the trauma of patient deaths. They must understand that death is inevitable and an eventuality for most patients diagnosed with terminal conditions. It gets hugely challenging for nurses to detach themselves after dedicating months to a patient’s treatment and positive outcomes. 

But once you accept that death is inevitable, it’s easier to process the grief. Nurses are strongly advised to take time off to grieve and process their emotions through healthy activities. Returning to the same stressful environment is strongly ill-advised if you struggle with an internal crisis. We advise taking a few days off to plan a short getaway or spending time with your loved ones. 

Communicate your Concerns 

It’s crucial to communicate with colleagues and family members and unburden yourself to alleviate stress. Talking about our challenges and inner turmoils helps us process our grief and find solace in the comforting words of our loved ones. Bottling up the trauma and stress inside will set the stage for chronic stress and anxiety, deteriorating your wellbeing. 

Nurses must support and comfort one another to create a healthy and nurturing work environment. Sharing your worries and concerns will help you process the trauma and overcome the shock of watching a patient die. Nurses can support their colleagues struggling with the same emotional turmoil, bonding on the shared experiences of patient fatalities. Nursing leaders must help young practitioners with masterful coping mechanisms and stress-busting strategies. 

Nurses dealing with deaths are strongly advised to undertake therapy to fight off stress and process negative emotions. Suppose you don’t want to burden your colleagues and loved ones with the harrowing details of your work experiences. In that case, it’s wise to reach out to a therapist and process negative emotions during therapy. 

A therapist can help you detach yourself from patient fatalities and find healthy ways to cope with your grief.


Meditation doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially when your mind is racing with anxious thoughts and unpleasant memories. It’s not easy to silence the mind and ebb the tumultuous sea of memories that keep you from sleeping soundly. However, if you try to focus your energies on calming the sea of thoughts and anxieties, you will succeed. 

Engaging in meditation is the healthiest way to de-stress and cleanse your mental palette free of anxieties and trauma. Meditation will help you find your center and check-in with yourself to become attuned with your wellbeing. You won’t achieve spiritual ascension with your very first session. In fact, you’re more likely to give up after struggling to silence your mind after 20 minutes. 

However, those 20 minutes of struggling will help you align your mental energies and regain your composure. You can choose any strategy that aligns with your spiritual and religious beliefs and enables you to de-stress. Some find meditation a healthy practice, while others believe in praying and calling out to the universe for help. 

Relax & Unwind 

Suppose you’re overwhelmed by the death of a patient who was hospitalized under your care for months. In that case, it makes sense to take some time off to relax and unwind. If you’re struggling with the trauma of not seeing that patient every time you enter your healthcare facility, you need to step back. 

Consider taking a vacation, visiting your parents, or spending some time alone to reflect on your wellbeing. A two-three day break from work won’t make a difference to your work ethic, but it will work wonders for your wellbeing. 

Final Thoughts 

For most nurses, the only way to cope with the death of a patient is to process it healthily and productively. Many find closure and contentment in connecting with the patient’s family members to offer support and grieve their loss. Others find solace in taking time off and prioritizing their own wellbeing. We advise reflecting on your mental and emotional condition to find strategies to help you process your grief.


What do you think?

Written by Virily Editor

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