Grief in Critical Care Nurses after Pediatric Suffering and Death


Grief in Critical Care Nurses after Pediatric Suffering and Death


Groves KA; Adewumi A; Gerhardt CA; Skeens MA; Suttle ML


Annals of Palliative Medicine




Adaptation; Pediatric Terminal Care; Psychological; Child; Critical Care; Female; Grief; Humans; Intensive Care Units


BACKGROUND: Working in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) exposes nurses to intense and recurrent experiences with loss. Such experiences may result in unresolved grief or despair among these providers. Although previous studies have explored grief within the nursing profession, few have focused on grief following the death of children in the PICU, where sudden or traumatic deaths are more frequent. The aim of this study was to characterize the degree to which pediatric critical care (PCC) nurses experience symptoms of grief or distress following the suffering and/or death of a patient in the PICU. METHODS: An email invited PICU nurses at a large free standing children's hospital to complete an online survey with demographic questions and an open-ended, qualitative question about grief experiences. Research team members coded open-ended responses, using thematic content analysis. Final themes were further validated via member checking. RESULTS: Of the 104 participants, most were Caucasian (96.3%), female (97%), bedside (83.5%) nurses with a bachelor's degree (85.4%). Participants had variable years of experience and included both day (59.6%) and night (40.4%) shift nurses. After detailed analysis, the research team identified four major themes among pediatric critical care (PCC) nurses when asked about grief symptoms and distress following the suffering or death of a patient in the PICU: (I) continuum of emotional responses; (II) emotional prompts; (III) coping, and (IV) resilience. CONCLUSIONS: Many PICU nurses were profoundly affected by the death of their patients, while others offered strategies that fostered resilience. Understanding the impact of repeated loss on these specialized nurses may inform the development of more effective grief and bereavement support programs for healthcare providers.


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Groves KA; Adewumi A; Gerhardt CA; Skeens MA; Suttle ML, “Grief in Critical Care Nurses after Pediatric Suffering and Death,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed February 29, 2024,