Coping with Loss: A Physician’s Guide

Losing a patient can be unavoidable, even when you do everything in your power as a physician to prevent it from happening. The emotional impact of losing a patient can be intense and the demands of your job can leave little time for reflection and recovery. Most doctors will have to deal with this situation many times throughout their careers. So, it’s important to find healthy strategies for coping with loss.  coping with loss

Common Misconceptions

Unfortunately, the loss of a patient can happen frequently throughout the span of a physician’s career. However, many people working in healthcare do not speak very openly about their emotional pain when this occurs. While grieving families have access to grief counseling, it is not provided to doctors. Therefore, it’s important to avoid misconceptions about your role as a physician when dealing with these difficult situations.

You are a human being, and your work does not have to be impersonal. It is not unprofessional to be upset when you lose someone you care about, especially when it’s a patient under your care. Your feelings are natural, and allowing yourself to feel them will not hinder your ability to work. Remember that there are many ways you can start to heal when dealing with the loss of a patient.  

Strategies for Coping with Loss

Here are four healthy methods for coping with loss as a physician:

Be Empathetic

Empathy is essential if you are a physician coping with loss. Whether or not it was expected, the family of your patient has just lost some they love. It’s important to be there for the families and help them find closure. Meeting in person, writing a thoughtful letter, or even attending the funeral are all great ways that you can show empathy to grieving families. They will certainly appreciate the thought behind these gestures.

Be Supportive

Review the case with your team and let them express their feelings about what happened. They may be hurting too, and you should remind them that you are all going through this as a group. Make sure that everyone who wants to be heard has a voice and that no one is left out. This will help to make you stronger as a team.

Be Reflective

As unfortunate as it may be to lose a patient, you and your team have the opportunity to learn from the experience. These lessons will help you when you deal with future cases and will help your team grow. After everyone has had the opportunity to discuss their emotions, start to review any takeaways that could help improve your practice in the future. And don’t forget to be completely open to feedback. Even those on your team with smaller roles can have valuable insights.  

Be Vulnerable

As a doctor, you cannot skip out on self-care. While you must be mindful of what’s going on with the patient’s family and your team, you must remember yourself as well. Coping with loss can be challenging for anyone, so be sure to seek guidance from your support system during these tough times.

One great resource would be connecting with a colleague who has dealt with loss. Doing this will provide you with a new perspective from someone in your field and potentially strengthen your relationship with them. Being open and vulnerable with your family can also be very helpful because they know you better than anyone else. Don’t be afraid to talk it out It will most likely make you feel better.

Coping with loss is never easy. But, there are many ways that you can begin to heal. Don’t forget that your feelings are completely natural and that there are resources available to you that will help you get through these challenges.

Are there any coping strategies that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.


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