Chapter 2: Addressing work-related grief stress

Introduction

It is our belief that if we have the courage to identify and confront the totality of our responses in patient care at the end of life, we can use it to inform and enrich our work. – Dr. Renee Katz

Work-related grief distress is a psychological reaction of clinicians who are dealing with death in the course of their practice. Dr. Renee Katz and Dr. Therese Johnson write in their book, When Professionals Weep, that attending to the impacts of loss enables clinicians to become more competent, compassionate, and aware. Clients and patients benefit when health care professionals are more in tune with their own losses and their impact.

However, if grief and other work-related grief distress aren’t addressed, over time this can take a serious toll. Work-related grief distress is not the same thing as burnout, but can lead to it. Like compassion fatigue, burnout is characterized by emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion resulting from prolonged and repeated stress. 

Prevention strategies are always preferable to dealing with the aftermath; and self-care strategies are the cornerstone of prevention. In addition to the strategies already outlined, preventative steps to safeguard your physical and psychological health include:

  • Monitoring how well you’re coping with the inherent stresses of paramedicine.

  • Being alert for signs of grief-related distress.

  • Establishing on-the-job and personal boundaries.

  • Responding constructively to signs of work-related grief distress.
Think of this as your personal "prevention toolbox" and design it according to your own needs and circumstances.