What they don't teach you about grief in nursing school


All the things I remember about dealing with grief in nursing school (which wasn’t much in general) had to do with how to be a therapeutic presence for my patients and their families. Even then, I can only remember one portion of one lecture when my professor had us role-play with each other; one person pretended to be the patient feeling sad about his condition, the other person pretended to be the nurse, trying to help the patient process and cope. It was a bit contrived and awkward. I certainly don’t remember hearing anything about dealing with my own emotions and experiences with grief as I would inevitably be affected by my patients as they suffered…and sometimes…died. It’s the heavy side of nursing that we simply don’t get much preparation for, and as I and my colleagues in the pediatric ICU experience death and dying on a regular basis, we find ourselves continually grappling with the effect all the tragedy has on us.

It was this experience that has instilled in me a passion to bring these kinds of conversations to light. Yes, nurses deal with all the technical things we have to learn. We deal with time management, short staffing, and “difficult” patients and families. But in our core, what we wrestle with the most I think ends up being the grief and the trauma of being around sick and dying people on a regular basis.

An opportunity opened up for me to do this TEDx Talk, which was amazing because it is one of the very few TED/TEDx Talks out there that is actually by a bedside nurse. It is for all of us in this incredible profession who ask ourselves, what do I do with this grief that I carry because of my patients?

I hope this Talk will encourage many of you and get some important conversations going.

Avoiding Burnout. Any tips?

Interesting concept of grief as a test and teacher of endurance. It is hard to encounter grief on a consistent basis and come out unscathed and avoid becoming burned out. This can happen in many professions, but I agree that nursing is particularly prone to facing grief seeing as we often work with those who are suffering and sometimes dying.

So rather than avoid it, which will inevitably fail, we have to confront it in a way that we might benefit from the silver linings. Something for me to work on I guess.


It is hard, without doubt. I am not sure that my goal honestly is to come out unscathed because I don’t think that is realistic. I will be hurt, and I don’t want to become so hardened that I stop feeling hurt for others, but I am also not convinced that wrestling with grief has to destroy us. I think there is a deep processing of the grief we experience that is very hard to do, but ultimately beneficial for the ways we grow.


Very nice concept, that sometimes others forgotten that people on medical fields are also humans. Thanks for sharing this.