Front-line staff often form close bonds with patients and their families, especially on units where prolonged stays are frequent. They enter their lives at critical junctures and become partners, rather than observers. That's the case on C3, the Oncology & G.I. Medicine unit at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. Many of the patients there are very ill, and it's not uncommon for them to die in the hospital.
Losing patients can take a toll on staff, especially nurses. In the fast-paced environment of the unit, it can be difficult to take time to process the grief that follows.
"You're very emotional having gone through what you just went through with this family and you're trying to support them," says Emma MacKenzie, a registered nurse on the unit. "Then you've got to go into your other patients' rooms and be your happy self and keep them in a positive mood. That's kind of difficult."
Over time, this was contributing to compassion fatigue among nursing staff.
MacKenzie shared these concerns with her team members who agreed they needed a better strategy for supporting front-line staff after the death of a patient. At the time, nurses were asking their break buddy to cover off if they needed a few minutes to reflect. Some felt guilty requesting help, so instead continued working without time to grieve.
"We brought a multidisciplinary group together to identify ways we could support staff on the unit," says Karen Robinson, clinical manager. "With the frequency of deaths they may see, they really need support afterward so they can return to work energized and able to do their best."
Through a collaborative process, staff on C3 developed a simple but highly effective way to make sure nurses have a chance to grieve after one of their patients dies. Watch the video below to learn more.