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I witnessed death on my placement and now I want out


This student nurse is traumatised by his A&E experience. Can you help put him at ease? 

I have completed my first placement and now it’s done, I am not sure I can continue. I worked in an A&E department and I thought I was really well prepared for it, I am not squeamish and felt good helping people in trouble. But I can’t get over the deaths I witnessed.

Two people died in front of me and it’s knocked the confidence out of me. Both people were suffering when they died and I think that’s why I am so upset about it. I just wasn’t prepared for that. It’s made me fear going back in January and all I want do is change my career path. What should I do? 


Readers' comments (6)

  • Did you speak to your mentor/coach at the time? You could contact chaplaincy at uni or occupational health or the student union support. Talk to your peers and lead tutor. Above all - talk to someone

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  • Accept that death is part of life and comes in many forms, some of it unpleasant. Meeting death in A&E is not the same as meeting it in a hospice, for example, so don't make any decisions until you have had the opportunity to observe end of life care in a different setting. Also remember that you are human first and a nurse second; your response is entirely normal. As a seventeen year old cadet, I took part in last offices on a regular basis and came to realize that caring for someone in their last hours or moments is a privilege and not to be feared.

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  • Please talk to your mentor or your academic advisor about how you're feeling. It's completely normal to feel this way and it shows you are human and that you care. Write a reflection will help you get your thoughts and feelings on paper as well. I'm in my third year and writing reflections when I've been in emotionally heavy situations at placement has really helped me. I experienced my first death when I was in second year and I talked to the ward sister about it over a cup of tea and it made me feel a lot better discussing it with someone who dealt with it all the time. I was always frightened of death and I spent a morning in the hospital mortuary, it was a strange experience but I am so glad I did it, the staff were very respectful and it changed my views of death.

    Try and get some immediate support for how you're feeling from uni, placement or even friends/family but as far as your next placement, be honest about your experiences and look at it as a learning opportunity. Ask to get involved in last offices, talk to the bereavement team at your trust. Death is a natural part of life but it will affect people in different ways so most importantly, look after yourself and make time for self-care.

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  • change before you become old and embittered and poor, like me and thousands of other idi-, I mean nurses.

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  • I work in a care home-I’m doing nursing this year and I have witnessed many deaths. When the doctor came in to verify the death he spoke about how death is a natural experience and that it is just important to celebrate birth but also to comfort in the death - this helped me cope with death. Maybe try and talk to peers to see how they cope or talk to your mentor?

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  • What you are feeling is normal. You were in extraordinary circumstances and to be honest you are probably a bit shocked, you are just starting out and this is a pivotal learning curve. You pin point the distress came from the suffering. Consider if you persevere you will have the skills to alleviate that suffering and to put it into perspective. It will never be right, you will never just brush it off but you can learn to use the negative thoughts it has generated to improve the experience for yourself and ultimately for others. Be kind to yourself, this indicates you are normal, empathetic and compassionate you just need to make it productive (not negative and paralysing).

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