How Do You Handle the Emotional Impact of Working With Critically Ill Pediatric Patients?

How Do You Handle the Emotional Impact of Working With Critically Ill Pediatric Patients?

Pediatric healthcare professionals are often faced with the heart-wrenching reality of caring for critically ill children, a challenge that demands not only clinical expertise but also emotional resilience. A Pediatric Nurse Case Manager reveals how gratitude serves as a grounding coping mechanism, while additional answers, including one highlighting the importance of professional counseling, offer a spectrum of strategies to navigate these emotional waters. Here, we explore seven insightful perspectives, from maintaining a balanced approach to prioritizing self-care, to help those in pediatric care manage the emotional toll of their crucial work.

  • Gratitude as a Coping Strategy
  • Exercise and Cooking for Emotional Relief
  • Balance Professionalism with Compassion
  • Adopt Mindfulness Techniques
  • Seek Peer Support Networks
  • Prioritize Self-Care and Mental Health
  • Engage in Professional Counseling

Gratitude as a Coping Strategy

I am a nurse case manager in a children's hospital. I encounter some of the sickest and saddest situations that completely dismantle and, at times, devastate the lives of a child and their family. I witness unfair circumstances, such as rare diseases, near-drownings, debilitating accidents, and random, fluky unfortunate situations that come out of nowhere. My focus is always the same—to get patients and families the care and support that is needed. Whether it is rehabilitation, medical equipment, nursing services, or simple care coordination—my attention is always on safety, coordination of care, fiscal responsibility, and supportive measures—all delivered with compassion.

In my quietest moments, when I reflect on what my patients endure, I am grateful for all I have. Each patient and their story sticks with me and offers me learning lessons on how I can do better. Their profound experiences lend themselves as breadcrumbs leading me to solutions for future patients. Practicing in a well-known teaching hospital provides many opportunities to learn, to grow, to pause, to pray, to teach, and to sometimes grieve. My coping strategies are born from a humbling place of gratitude. I hope I instill and pass it on to those I engage with, and I treat each patient's journey as an opportunity for growth.

I am fortunate to have a job that enables autonomy and continues to challenge me daily. However, I also gain so much in return. The emotional impact that accompanies working with critically ill pediatric patients is a small price to pay for the multitudes of enrichment I gain from our most precious resource on earth—our children.

Brooke Edell
Brooke EdellPediatric Nurse Case Manager, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Exercise and Cooking for Emotional Relief

I've worked with critically ill children and teens for almost a decade, and coping with the emotional impact is still a learning process. Initially, time with family and friends was the most beneficial way to heal and turn off the 'work brain.' Now, I find that consistent exercise is the sweetest escape because it prevents me from overanalyzing my day, and the endorphin release helps me to re-energize. Cooking and trying new recipes has also proved to be a great therapeutic outlet, as I take pride in the finished product!

Ultimately, you have to find ways to reset and refuel because so much of your mental energy is used to support others.

Alyssa Pettingill, MS, CCLS
Alyssa Pettingill, MS, CCLSChild Life Specialist, EmpoweringKidz LLC

Balance Professionalism with Compassion

Dealing with the emotional challenges of working with critically ill pediatric patients requires one to maintain professional boundaries while also being empathetic. It is essential to connect with patients on a human level, yet important to not become overly emotionally invested, which can lead to burnout. Balancing professionalism with compassion helps protect one's own emotional well-being.

This equilibrium allows healthcare workers to provide the best care to patients and their families. Establish a routine to check in with yourself and ensure this balance is preserved, adjusting as needed to maintain emotional stability.

Adopt Mindfulness Techniques

The use of stress management and mindfulness techniques is a proactive approach to handling the emotional toll of working with severely sick children. Practicing mindfulness can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by encouraging presence in the moment and recognition of one's own emotional states without judgment. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can act as tools to maintain an emotional equilibrium.

By incorporating such practices into one's daily routine, it becomes possible to approach each day with a renewed sense of calm and focus. Adopt a mindfulness technique today and begin the journey towards emotional resilience.

Seek Peer Support Networks

Seeking peer support is a crucial aspect of coping with the emotional impact that comes with caring for critically ill pediatric patients. Speaking with colleagues who understand the specific pressures of the work environment can offer much-needed comfort and practical advice. Regular debriefings with peers create a supportive network that facilitates the sharing of experiences, enhancing personal growth and emotional coping strategies.

It is through this connectedness with others facing similar challenges that one can find collective strength. Reach out to a colleague to share your experiences and strengthen your support network.

Prioritize Self-Care and Mental Health

To maintain one's ability to provide compassionate care, prioritizing self-care and mental health days is fundamental. Taking regular breaks from the stressful healthcare environment can replenish one's energy and ensure that one is emotionally available for patients when on duty. Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation is as important as the work itself, fostering a sustainable career in healthcare.

Time away from the pressures of the job can provide perspective and prevent the onset of compassion fatigue. Make it a point to schedule time for rest and rejuvenation as part of your ongoing commitment to both personal well-being and professional excellence.

Engage in Professional Counseling

Engaging in regular professional counseling sessions is an effective strategy for managing the psychological burdens of working with critically ill pediatric patients. Counselors can offer strategies for coping with grief and stress, tailored to the unique experiences of healthcare professionals in these emotionally charged settings. Having a confidential outlet to process difficult emotions can contribute to one's emotional and psychological stability.

Professional guidance assists in developing resilience and maintaining one's capacity to empathetically care for patients. If you're in the healthcare field, consider establishing a relationship with a counselor to support your emotional health.

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