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Understanding grief in nursing

How does the grieving process affect the working life of a nurse?

Grief is often viewed as the cost of being human; almost 96% of adults experience grief at least once in their lives.1 Yet, few are more familiar with grief than nurses. As professional caregivers, nurses are exposed to distress and trauma at much higher rates than the average population. In addition to witnessing their patients in pain and assisting patients’ families in coping with the loss of a loved one, nurses must also handle their own emotions. To this end, early in their careers, nurses are taught to establish emotional boundaries during their practice.

Still, in a profession defined by compassion, empathy, and therapeutic relationships with patients, it can be difficult to draw the line. For instance, neonatal nurses working in the intensive care unit, often take roles of guardianship towards their patients. Studies show that these nurses consider emotional investment in their patients as a necessary component of the care pathway. Yet, when an infant is life-threateningly ill, these nurses are presented with the significant challenge of simultaneously attempting to meet the comfort needs of the baby while also coping with their own emotions.2

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