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Working in the medical field

How does working with patients affect your personal lives? For a long time I wanted to be a psychiatric nurse but I can imagine it is hard to shut off emotional connection to patients in the work place. #doctor #psychology #nurse #psychologist #psychiatrist

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Daniela’s Answer

Hi Riley,

How do you deal with a patient and his or her family when you have become emotionally involved?

Your Fall Back Plan

As a nurse, you have to fall back on your professional code of conduct. This is the unwritten rule that says you are not to show your emotions to your patients and that you are not to get emotionally involved with them. Only a robot would be able to maintain this code, yet many nurses feel they have to live up to it.

The truth is that nurses are human and they are going to get emotionally involved. Showing some emotion to patients and family is inevitable, but it must not get in the way of proper, safe care.

A Potential Strategy

One suggested strategy (Davies et al. 1996) is simply to learn how to withdraw emotionally from your patients as necessary. This is often something that nurses learn how to do as they progress in their careers after experiencing a particularly hurtful patient’s death at one point or another.

Of course you maintain your cheerfulness and ability to relate to your patient, but you do not allow yourself to be pulled down that road towards learning about them. It sounds cruel, but sometimes you must keep patients at arm’s length to protect yourself emotionally.

Withdrawal is an acceptable strategy for the short-term. It only works to get you out of acute situations because it is basically a tactic of ignoring your feelings.

Talking your feelings out is the best strategy.

Nurses Know Best

No one understands how much it hurts to lose a patient as much as another nurse.

Take the time to talk about your emotional involvement with your peers. Often, they are feeling the same sense of loss and stress that you are feeling. If not, they may have gone through something similar in their career.

Other nurses are a great source of support for you if you are overwhelmed by an incident with a patient, but do not discount speaking with a healthcare provider if the feelings persist.

Sometimes nurses need to put self-care first, in order to take good care of their own patients.


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Teresa’s Answer

Hi Riley- It is very wise for you to consider the potential problem of the emotional connection with your patients when you consider psychiatric nursing as a field of work. Nursing in general can be very stressful and the people who do this best, have coping strategies to help them decompress. Many of the nurses I work with in NICU have a great sense of humor and that can be a release- Others need time to themselves to handle situations and will ask to step out of the room while another nurse takes their place- You will just need to find what helps you cope best. Nurses who do not find a coping mechanism can find they have "compassion fatigue". If this happens, the nurse definitely needs a vacation! Patients and families can tell if you have compassion for them or not- The best nurses can protect themselves while still showing compassion. Just remember that you need to "know thyself" and give yourself a time to process- however you find helps you best!