Chapter 1: Grief responses to suffering and death

Healthcare provider grief

The grief expert says
Dr. Ken Doka discusses the grief healthcare providers may feel when a patient dies and strategies for coping.(3:22)Video transcript
Dr. Chris MacKinnon discusses the grief experienced by those working in health care. (3:22)Video transcript
The palliative care experts says
Irene Rezenbrink shares a personal reflection on the importance of self-care for healthcare providers. (3:22)Video transcript

A growing body of research demonstrates that substantial numbers of health care providers across disciplines experience some level of grief in response to the death of a patient. For example:

  • A US study of physicians, residents and interns reported that 47% of participants felt “upset when thinking about the patient’’ and 24% felt ‘‘numb.’’
  • An Australian study reported that 76% of nurses, 57% of physicians and 31% of medical students reported crying in hospital due to identification and bonding with the suffering of dying patients and their families.

You may have heard the terms "vicarious traumatization" and "compassion fatigue". These are both related to work-related grief. Vicarious traumatization refers to a second-hand experience of trauma (e.g, witnessing someone else's trauma). Compassion fatigue can result whenever you become over-extended in your caring and empathy.

For the purpose of this module we are referring to this distress as work-related grief

Paramedic work-related grief includes feelings of shock, sadness, anger, guilt and numbness related to:

  • The dying or death of a patient.
  • The family’s reaction to the death.


Contributing factors

Several factors can contribute to this, including:

  • Connection to the patient and family.

  • Frequent contacts with the patient or family.

  • Reminders of personal loss.

  • Anticipating future personal loss.

  • A non-optimal outcome