Clinical placements

Nothing can prepare you for the death of a patient

When a mental health service user died on nursing student Mark Weetman's first placement, he learned the importance of addressing physical health needs in mental health settings

When a mental health service user died on nursing student Mark Weetman's first placement, he learned the importance of addressing physical health needs in mental health settings

The death of a patient can be a learning process. Photo: Alamy 

On my first mental health placement, a tragic incident resulted in the death of a service user. Even with almost five years’ experience as a support worker, this was something I hadn't faced before. 

My training up until this point had equipped me with the skills and knowledge to know what to do in such situations, and as a nursing student I know I did everything I possibly could to save the patient’s life, including giving CPR. 

Sadly, though, the nursing team’s attempts were unsuccessful, and the patient died.

Nothing can prepare you for seeing someone die. There is so much emotion and stress, and the ‘what ifs?’ raced around my head for weeks after. 

Although I will be a mental health nurse when I qualify, I realise you can't view mental health as its own entity. In this case, the service user had a physical health condition that affected her mental health. 

Physical health can be overlooked in mental health settings, but it shouldn't be. People who use our services should be cared for holistically, with treatment addressing both their physical and mental health needs. This is something I will always aim to implement in my practice. 

Learning process

This experience showed me how much nursing is a learning process. As nurses, we may come across conditions that we need to know about, however rare they may be. It is our responsibility to continue our professional development to understand our service users better. 

This way, we can provide care that addresses all of their needs, including those that may not be what they initially accessed a service for. This is the care all our service users deserve, and something I strive to achieve. 

I want to become a nurse because I have the passion and drive to improve the situation of every person who comes in contact with services. I can play a part in a life-changing outcome, or just be the person a service user can talk to. 

Improving lives 

Although our attempts to save this patient were unsuccessful, I helped in every way I could to save her life. This gave me the confidence to be an active team member, enabling me to provide the best possible care I can. 

I am now in my third year of training, and this service user is always in my thoughts. I still experience a range of emotions when caring for service users. including, sometimes, the 'what ifs', but I feel privileged to have been involved in that person's care. That is something we should feel about every single service user. 

My confidence has grown throughout my training. I hope it continues to grow once I am a qualified nurse, and I continue to develop professionally, so that I can effect service change for the better, and improve the lives of service users. 

About the author

Mark Weetman is a third-year mental health nursing student at London South Bank University

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