A patient that I had been following for several weeks died a few days ago, and I can’t seem to stop feeling upset about it. I talked about it with my colleague and he told me to “get over it”, and that “patients die, you’d better get used to it if you want to stay in this field.” Part of me thinks he’s right, but I am still struggling to get over this loss. Now I’m worried that if mention it to anyone else, I’ll be labeled as “weak” or “too sensitive”. How can I deal with these feelings without affecting the way people perceive me?
Not Over It Yet
Dear “Not Over it Yet,”
I am so sorry about the death of your patient. A piece of advice I was given early in my career is that if it ever becomes easy to lose a patient, it’s probably time to take a break or find a new career. I still believe that is true.
I know that you talked to one of your colleagues who didn’t provide an empathetic response. Is there someone else whom you trust within your program- either a peer or a senior resident- who you can buy a coffee in exchange for bending their ear about the case in particular, and how they manage patient deaths in general? Is there someone on faculty whom you think is a skilled listener? They might also be a resource.
Grief can be complicated and sometimes peer support just isn’t enough. If you find that’s true, check with your program director or your GME office about Employee Assistance Programs. These programs often provide short-term support and counseling in a confidential manner. Most importantly, this is an opportunity for you to identify a support network and wellness activities that help to keep you grounded throughout your career. Those things are worth their weight in gold.
Amalia Cochran, MD, FACS, FCCM
Dr. Cochran is board-certified in general surgery with a certificate of added qualifications in surgical critical care. Her clinical interests are in burns and frostbite and the use of telemedicine to deliver care in rural and frontier areas. She also has research interests in disruptive surgeon behavior and career development for women in academic surgery. She is a Past President of both the Association of Women Surgeons and the Association for Surgical Education. She is a self-described “single woman managed by three very indulged rescue animals.”
Dr. Cochran earned her medical degree from Texas A&M University College of Medicine. She completed her general surgery training at the University of Utah, which was followed by a fellowship in burns and surgical critical care at UTMB/ Shriner’s- Galveston. She is currently Professor and Vice Chair of Education at The Ohio State University Department of Surgery.
She began attending AWS Conferences as a resident, recognizing the networking opportunities afforded by the organization, and subsequently became active on the Academic Practice Committee. The focus of the AWS on the development of women as surgical leaders and as mentors aligns with her scholarly interests as well as her core values as a woman surgeon.
The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is excited to bring to you a resident and fellow focused blog titled, “Dear Pat”. “Dear Pat” answers questions about issues pertinent to surgical residents and fellows, such as navigating through residency, applying to fellowship, family planning, and handling difficult situations on the job. Questions may be submitted by residents and fellows anonymously and will be answered by AWS council members. This monthly blog is published the fourth Sunday of each month. We want to hear from you, if you are interested in submitting your anonymous question, use this link.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.