Coping with bad patient outcomes as a nursing student

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Medical staff seeing to a small child in the hospital. Most nurses are compassionate by nature and want the best possible outcomes for their patients. But sometimes, despite the best efforts of a nurse and the entire medical team, patients do not do well. Bad outcomes occur, and patients do not survive.

Seeing suffering patients, grieving families and bad patient outcomes can be difficult for even a seasoned nurse. For a nursing student who is inexperienced, it can be very distressing at first.

The first thing nursing students need to understand is the fact they feel sad or upset is actually a good thing. Seeing tragic situations, loss and illness is sad—if you felt otherwise, you might be going into the wrong profession. The important thing is not to let those feelings overwhelm you and interfere with your ability to do your job as a student nurse. Being caring and compassionate is a positive thing, but breaking down during your shift is not. Keep the following factors in mind when dealing with upsetting situations as a student nurse:

Know you did your best

Remember your job as a student nurse, and later a nurse, is to do your best for your patients. The fact is that sometimes your best will not cure someone, but it may ease pain and help patients improve their quality of life.

Maintain appropriate boundaries

It’s perfectly acceptable to chat with your patients and be friendly.  Following them on social media sites or exchanging numbers may be crossing the line. Becoming too close to patients can make difficult outcomes ever harder to accept. 

Find ways to recharge

Throughout your nursing career, you will see all types of patients and some cases will be upsetting. The work can be emotionally draining at times. It is essential that you find ways to leave work behind and recharge. The sooner you learn how to leave work at the hospital the better. Whether you exercise, hang out with friends, listen to music or all of the above, you need to have ways to forget about work and enjoy life.

Sometimes, even if you do your best and develop ways to reduce stress, some bad patient outcomes may stay with you a while. Maybe the patient is your age or reminds you of a family member. Whatever the reason, some cases stay with you longer than others. If the situation is bothering you or interfering with your studies, it is important to recognize it and get assistance. You may be having trouble dealing with your feelings if you have depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping or are dreading going to your clinical rotation. Don’t be afraid to get help. Talk with an instructor, school counselor or the hospital chaplain.

Watching your patients recover and walk out of the hospital is very rewarding. Unfortunately, not all cases have happy endings—but you can always take comfort in knowing that you did the best you could for your patients.  

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