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Emotional Effects of Being a Pediatric Nurse

by Ellie Williams

Seeing a child through an injury or illness brings great rewards for many pediatric nurses, who have the satisfaction of knowing they helped a hurt or frightened child make the journey to recovery. However, they sometimes face intense emotional strain, especially when they lose a patient or must comfort a scared or grieving parent. While their job requires compassion and empathy, it also requires the ability to remain objective and cool under pressure.

Serving as Moral Support

Pediatric nurses not only provide physical care for ill children, they also offer emotional support for both patients and their family members. No matter how much it distresses them to see children suffering or parents worrying, nurses must stay strong and remain calm, especially when treating patients with severe injuries or illnesses. They must also learn to set boundaries so they don't let their involvement cloud their judgment or hinder their ability to care for patients.

Communication Challenges

Children often have difficulty expressing how they feel, including what hurts and what concerns them about their treatment. If nurses can’t bridge this communication gap, they can’t ease a child’s fears or decipher his symptoms. This can lead to frustration for many nurses, especially if the child is uncooperative. An inability to connect with a patient can make a nurse feel she can’t do her job. It can also hamper her efforts to provide care, because she can’t work with the child to support his healing.

Witnessing Suffering and Death

It’s always difficult for a nurse to see a patient in pain or watch a patient die, but it’s sometimes worse when this patient is very young. Many pediatric patients are frightened and confused, and might be traumatized whether they’re suffering from a broken bone or just received a cancer diagnosis. In addition, it can be difficult for nurses to see a child with his entire life ahead of him and know there’s little they can do to help. They often grieve the loss of a patient, especially if they treated him for weeks or months and formed a relationship with him and his family.

Making a Difference

Despite the drawbacks, pediatric nurses often benefit from great emotional rewards. Many, for example, establish healthy relationships with both the children they treat and their family members. They might even keep in touch years after the child returns home, allowing them to see his progress and the positive impact they had on his life. Nurses also derive emotional satisfaction from knowing they helped children and their parents during a frightening or traumatic time. Even if the outcome is not what they hoped for, they know they were there to offer support, kindness and the best care possible.

Photo Credits

  • Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images