Short pause after patient death helps medical teams recover emotionally

Medical teams at the University of Virginia Medical Center find that pausing for a few moments after a patient dies helps them accept the loss and experience less emotional trauma.

"The Pause" started unofficially about two years ago when a chaplain asked a team to wait while she said final prayers over a patient they had just lost, Kaiser Health News reported. Trauma nurse Jonathan Bartels, R.N., told KHN he was inspired by the short time spent in reflection, leading him to call a pause the next time a patient died.

The idea is to remember that the patient is a person who had a life and a family, and to thank the team for their efforts to save him or her.  Bartels says he is able to "sense and give back" by pausing, and "acknowledge the pain that I bore witness to in caring for that family and caring for that patient."

 "The Pause" has spread throughout the hospital and now is being taught at the university's medical school, according to the article. Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, has since instituted a similar program.

One of the known risks of being exposed to death daily is "death anxiety," which can lead to medical professionals stressing out about their own mortality. More traditional interventions include rotating emergency healthcare workers in and out of high-mortality settings. Experts also recommend adding nursing school curriculum focused on dealing with mortality.

A related risk for nurses is "compassion fatigue," in which the stress of showing compassion can cause fatigue and other symptoms outside of work, including an inability to "switch off" after work. Support from peers and supervisors can help, as can writing down thoughts and feelings.

For more:
- here's the KHN article