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

Implications for Practice

These findings add to the understanding of the experiences of the work-related losses and their effects on pediatric oncology nurses. These nurses are deeply affected by the losses they witness in their nursing practices. All of the nurses in this study were able to describe instances of loss and grief that they experienced during their careers. Findings from this study and previous studies clearly demonstrate the effects of work-related loss and grief on nurses.

Education on the emotional effects of working in nursing and instruction on the psychological management of loss and grief needs to be introduced on the undergraduate level. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional education must increase the education nurses receive regarding self-care throughout nursing careers. In addition to education, nurses need to receive ongoing emotional support on a consistent basis for the duration of their careers in pediatric oncology.

Nurses' education on their own professional loss and grief needs to be augmented. For the undergraduate nursing faculty, incorporation of professional loss and grief issues into the curriculum is needed to provide an essential foundation for students so they may become self- aware of their own loss and grief issues throughout their careers. For novice and expert nurses, introduction of the idea of self-care with tangible exercises and suggestions of viable self-care options will assist them in practicing effective methods to help deal with the emotions that are encountered during a professional loss. Investment in this issue by nursing educators and administrators may ensure that the needs of grieving nurses are recognized.

Participants in this study spoke of the negative impact that occurred when they had to continue working after one of their patients died. Research has suggested the need for hospitals and clinics ensuring adequate staffing to allow oncology nurses to provide holistic and effective care to patients.[19] Administrators and nursing managers need to develop and utilize more creative staffing options that would allow for greater staffing flexibility, especially during times of intense patient care situations. Patient care models need to be developed that will allow nurses to remove themselves for a period of time when they need to process a loss that they witness. Nurse managers will need to explore creative staffing and budgeting in order to ensure the success of these models.

Nurses in this study described the support of their colleagues as a key component in their psychological recovery after a work-related loss. This support was an invaluable way for the participants to engage in reflective processing of their professional losses. Nurse managers need to become aware of the importance of establishing camaraderie among their staffs. Staff development programs that focus on building a sense of community and cohesion among the staff need to be used for nurses. Establishment of structured support opportunities need to be developed, implemented, and critiqued by the nursing staff that utilized them.