25 Jan The Burden of Loss & Hospice Professionals by Sara Wolfe
We spend a third of our lives at work, so it goes without saying that our jobs have an enormous impact on our physiological and psychological well-being. For those of us who devote our careers to providing comfort to individuals at the end of their lives, grief is inevitable. It is understood that loved ones of patients who are dying will experience grief. However, we must pay more attention to the bereavement needs of professionals in an emotionally burdensome line of work. This recognition comes after a year of great loss within our communities following the impact of COVID-19. With that being said, we understand that hospice professionals experience loss on a near daily basis long before this public health emergency.
Professionals who work in an office setting and spend the majority of their working day sitting at a desk will eventually experience the physical results. To prevent this, offices have had luck with implementing certain interventions in their environment (i.e. standing desks, chair massages, etc.). If management makes an effort to improve the conditions we work in, the intention is that productivity will improve. It is understood that if professionals feel their needs are addressed at work, the commitment and general job satisfaction will increase. If the physical repercussions of work are addressed in some offices, the psychological repercussions of careers with high emotional demand insist that we must do what we can to aid those who spend an exceptional amount of time establishing relationships with patients who will die in their care.
Nurses, nurse aids, social workers, chaplains, counselors and other hospice or health care workers spend time getting to know patients and families on a deeply personal level in order to meet the family’s individual needs. When a patient passes away, professionals do not simply ‘move on’, and we should not expect them to. Of course, practitioners are meant to set and maintain ethical boundaries in providing care. However, this is not to say that even with proper boundaries one could prevent the death of a client from having an emotional impact on his or her care team.
It’s human nature to seek connection with those around us and is ultimately what can make or break a positive emotional experience from for many families and patients in hospice care. Additionally, it’s important to our patients and their loved ones that trust and meaningful relationships are built throughout the process of providing care. There is an inherent need for connection between patient and worker in order to have a positive impact on the experience of our patients, especially with patients suffering from serious medical conditions and short prognoses. This provides that clinicians will inevitably witness the consequences of loss as they are surrounded by it on a daily basis.
Interventions exist to meet the emotional needs of professionals in these types of careers. Whether it be on-site counseling, pet therapy, memorials for staff, etc. Mental health and other purposeful interventions are important for our team members to address the impacts of an emotionally burdensome line of work. In a society that pays closer attention to the physical needs of individuals while shying away from ‘touchier’ subjects such as mental health, this increases the need for visibility in such a spiritually and psychologically trying business. Health care communities have an obligation to their staff members to address mental health needs, whether that be through interventions or promoting a culture of acceptance and togetherness. If we ask our care teams to make the most of a patient’s end of life, how can we ignore the ramifications of this honorable, yet demanding task?