The Lived Experience of Work-Related Loss and Grief Among Pediatric Oncology Nurses

Teresa M. Conte, PhD, CPNP


Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2014;16(1):40-46. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Pediatric oncology nurses experience loss and grief in their daily clinical practices as a result of working directly with pediatric cancer patients and their families. These experiences of loss and grief can pose many threats to pediatric oncology nurses' emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. Although there have been numerous suggestions from professionals indicating that the loss and grief of professional nurses warrant investigation, there continues to be a lack of research in this area. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the experience of work-related losses for pediatric oncology nurses. Analysis of the data yielded the themes of connectedness, alienation, action, maintaining control, and a changed perspective. Awareness of the psychological needs of pediatric oncology nurses will enable educators and administrators to provide the support needed for these nurses to process work-related losses and continue their professional practice in this specialty area.


Oncology nursing has long been recognized as a unique, yet stressful and demanding, nursing specialty.[1,2] Oncology nurses and their patients enter into unique relationships characterized by their closeness, intensity, and duration of time. Oncology nursing can be intensely stressful and has been shown to leave the oncology nurses vulnerable to high levels of personal stress,[3,4] burnout,[5] emotional overload, declining job performance, and an overall poorer level of psychological well-being.[5,6]

Because of the intense and emotional relationships they form with pediatric oncology patients and their families, pediatric oncology nurses are exposed to multiple and compound work-related losses. These nurses directly experience loss when a patient successfully completes treatment, fails treatment, or dies and indirectly experience the losses their patients and families face throughout treatment.

Several researchers have suggested that it is necessary to provide ongoing psychological support and care to nurses to not only preserve their well-being but also to increase their retention in the nursing profession.[7,8] Studies have reported that nurses who experience work-related loss and grief that is not recognized or processed become stressed, burdened, and distracted. This may have undue effects on the patients under their care.

Whereas there is a growing body of research focusing on work-related grief and its effects on nurses, there is a lack of studies focusing on pediatric oncology nurses. Understanding these nurses' experiences with work-related losses is an important step toward the development of effective education and support programs.

The aim of this research study was to describe the experiences of work-related loss and grief in pediatric oncology nurses regardless of their levels of experience in working in pediatric oncology. Qualitative research methodology was the most appropriate method to explore the phenomenon of loss as it is experienced by pediatric oncology nurses.