How nurses cope with patient death: A systematic review and qualitative meta-synthesis

Ruishuang Zheng, Susan Fiona Lee, Melissa Jane Bloomer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Aims and objectives: To review literature on nurses’ coping strategies with patient death. Background: Dealing with the loss of a patient was viewed as one of the most demanding and challenging encounters in clinical practice. Those nurses who are not competent in coping with patient death may be inadequate in supporting dying patients and their family members, and minimise the quality of end-of-life care. To get a broader understanding of how nurses cope with patient death and to develop meaningful and effective interventions, a systematic review which would help underpin the multidimensional approaches is needed. Design: A systematic review. Methods: Exhaustive searching in ten databases: CINAHL Plus, EMBASE, MEDLINE, AMED, PsycINFO, ProQuest Health & Medical Complete, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, Google Scholar, EThOS and CareSearch. Meta-aggregation was used to synthesise the findings of the included studies. Results: This systematic review aggregated ten categories from the sixteen qualitative studies included, and then two synthesised findings were derived: intrinsic resources and extrinsic resources. The intrinsic resources consisted of setting boundaries, reflection, crying, death beliefs, life and work experience, and daily routines and activity. The extrinsic resources were comprised of talking and being heard, spiritual practices, education and programmes, and debriefing. Conclusion: This systematic review synthesised the findings about what resources nurses use when coping with patient death and made recommendations on future directions. Areas which could be developed to improve deficiencies that nurses had when faced with the losses of their patients were identified. Nurses need more support resources, which better assist them in coping with patient death. Relevance to clinical practice: The results of this systematic review could provide evidence for nurses’ coping strategies when dealing with patient death, and the recommendations could be employed by nurses to cope with the losses of patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e39-e49
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • coping
  • death and dying
  • end-of-life care
  • nurses
  • patient
  • systematic review

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