As a nurse will I be exposed to dead patients a lot?

  1. 0
    Hello,
    I am currently a nursing student and I am confused on if I really want to continue going to school for this. Today in class my professor had some bones from a 12 year old boy and was using them to teach us about the skeletal system. It really got to me and I had to walk out of class. As a nurse will I be exposed to dead patients a lot?

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  2. 26 Comments...

  3. 1
    Hello Mrs. Davis,

    It depends on the area of nursing you go in to as to whether you will see a lot of death or not. If you work in the ER or Oncology, it is part of the job and you will always have feelings for your patient but you learn to deal with it and what you believe in spirituality helps you to get through it. I have been a nurse for 30 + years and have had less than 10 patient deaths. I have baptized dead fetuses and newborns, held the hand of an elderly patient while dying, and prounounced a patient dead as a nurse practitioner. When possible, ou attend the funeral to put a closure to the event. Always remember, nursing has so many rewards that a death now and then hurts but you have co-workers to get you through it. Don't give up because of one incident. Talk to your instructor sor your clergy if you have one and they will give you the advice you need to help you deal with the situation.
    Fiona59 likes this.
  4. 1
    It will depend on what area of nursing you work in.You may encounter death during school as well. I see at least one dead patient a week.It does get easier but everyone has to find their own way of coping.
    Fiona59 likes this.
  5. 0
    Thank you so much for the inspirational replies! I really needed to hear someones encouragement.
  6. 0
    You can never guarantee that you won't see death, as we are healthcare providers and things do happen, but you can help to minimize your level of exposure, as it's all in where you work. If you work in a critical setting, an ICU, an ER, hospice, oncology, etc., you can expect to see some death. But if you go somewhere like orthopedics, med/surg, labor and delivery, things like that, you will typically have transferred your patient out before things get that critical. The risk is still there...even hip fractures can go bad quickly, and babies can get into distress during the birth process, but those events are few and far between on a typically healthier, lower acuity floor.

    When I worked on an ortho floor, I never saw death. Now that I'm in the ICU, I see it frequently. It was scary for me at first, and it was due a lot to my own insecurities about death. I had never dealt with a dead body, but now that I've had a few patients that died, it's easier. It's still a hard thing to do...you never get over the respect for human life. But it's easier to be in the room and not be uncomfortable at the fact that I'm bathing a deceased person now that I've had some exposure.

    Was it the fact that the bones were from a child that got to you? If so, avoid pediatrics. Or was it just the fact that they were bones? Figuring out exactly what it was that got to you is key, because then you can figure out what to do to fix it, whether it's just a need for more familiarity, dealing with your own fears, or a weak stomach.
  7. 0
    Depends on what area you work. A doctors office? Health Dept? Unless an emergency pops up - no. ICU and ER? Absolutely. And if you find nursing isn't for you, there is no shame is changing course. Better to make the change while you can then spend the time/money and end up w/a degree you don't want and a job you hate.
  8. 2
    I have been a nurse for 3 months in a pcu/icu and have coded 5 (none made it), had one die 1.5h into my shift, and have helped with postmortem care on 4 others. Death can be dignified and a very important part of nursing care because of the people left behind. Nursing care does not end when the patient in the bed stops living. We are tasked with unbelievable responsibility to the patient and family. Doctors get to go In and out, we are left with the rest. This is a real part of nursing ( at least in the area I live in, in florida)

    Sent from my iPhone using allnurses.com
    Newgrad_STAT and anotherone like this.
  9. 1
    I work in oncology. If you can not handle death on a regular basis then please do not ever go into this area. The families and patients are already having great difficulty.
    anotherone likes this.
  10. 1
    Quote from tamadrummer
    I have been a nurse for 3 months in a pcu/icu and have coded 5 (none made it), had one die 1.5h into my shift, and have helped with postmortem care on 4 others. Death can be dignified and a very important part of nursing care because of the people left behind. Nursing care does not end when the patient in the bed stops living. We are tasked with unbelievable responsibility to the patient and family. Doctors get to go In and out, we are left with the rest. This is a real part of nursing ( at least in the area I live in, in florida)

    Sent from my iPhone using allnurses.com
    Very well put.

    To the OP- if you decide that you CAN deal with death, make sure you can also deal with losing. I had a patient code and we lost her. At that point no one had really blatantly said "you will not always win. More often than not you will lose". I fell apart after we lost this patient. I wasn't ready to lose. I was a solid A student, a good athlete, a good coach...point being I had never really lost at anything. This death hit me as just that, my first failure. Make sure you have some frank discussions with a mentor/pastor/role model about your views on death and accepting death as not a failure, but a part of life itself. (((((Hugs))))) I know first hand being confronted with death is hard and I feel for you.
    DizzyLizzyNurse likes this.
  11. 0
    It can be a bit of a shock the first few times death becomes real in a way that one doesn't always think about. The only way I can describe it is that you develop a bit of a thicker skin as you find death as a part of life, that you don't personalize it necessarily to yourself, but empathize with those going through it, and desire for your patient to be as peaceful and pain free as possible. And at the end of the day your life needs to go on, knowing that you did what you could, when you could. If one could save the world, we would, but when we can't we cope as we are able and go on.

    Nursing is about many, many different parts of life, death included. There are areas of nursing that are more likely not directly involved in the actual death of a patient, but that would be in the art of keeping someone well, an MD's office, not necessarily acute care. But there's no guarentees that you will not have to eventually deal with death in your practice, no matter what the level of care you would partake in.

    If this is something that really is not an area of coping for you, I would suggest that you make an appointment to speak with someone who works in or runs a hospice. The nurses who work in that area are experts on explaining death in a way that may make it easier for you to understand and deal with the eventuality and a nurse's role in same. A lot of it has to do with our own feelings about death, if one has ever dealt with death on a personal level, and one's belief system regarding death. One needs to rationalize and not personalize, and for some that seems cold and distant, but quite the opposite, you care for someone at the most vunerable and if you believe spiritual times of their lives.

    I am curious that if they just showed you bones as opposed to telling you they were from a child, it would have been a bit more feasible for you to objectively look at the lecture as a learning tool. Sometimes the details are a bit more overwhelming than looking objectively at the lessons that one is taught.

    I wish you nothing but the best.


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