Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Debriefing After Death


Reflecting on a patient's death as a team provides an opportunity to process emotions and strengthen team dynamics.

I bought tulips yesterday. Your mother told me that they were your favorite. I hope you’d like the color. Standing there, debating which bouquet to pick, I remembered the chaos of the room where you died. The monitor announcing that your heart had stopped. Despite the bolt of the defibrillator, it wouldn’t start again. When we called your death and I stopped my compressions, I saw your blue eyes and your bright red fingernails. We all paused after your death, a moment of silence shared among those who had been in the room when you died. An opportunity for each of us, in our own way, to stop and reflect on the shared experience. An intentional moment to show respect and honor your life.



I remember finding a chair to sit with your family to tell them of your death and then witnessing their grief. Taking time to acknowledge your father’s anger, your mother’s sobs, and your husband’s questions. I cried too. As I walked down a hallways, a colleague pulled me aside and let me know it was appropriate to grieve. We debriefed about your code. We took the opportunity to learn and made the space for each of us to put into words the mixture of emotions we needed to voice.



Each of us will encounter death at some point in our life and this is an experience more frequently encountered by healthcare professionals. We must make the time to allow our teams the opportunity to debrief and reflect after a patient’s death. Debriefing after a patient’s death creates a safe space where we can be present with and acknowledge our emotions. It requires dedication to carve out space for this time.


Here are three important things to keep in mind: 


1. Debriefing after a patient’s death is an opportunity to both reflect and strengthen team dynamics.


2. Recognize that a patient’s death will raise emotions.

You or others may not feel comfortable sharing feelings. It’s important to create a safe space that gives everyone the opportunity to be open and honest.


3. Others in your team may not feel comfortable asking for the opportunity to debrief. 

Code and team leaders should dedicate time and effort to create these opportunities. However, any member of the team can, and should, feel comfortable doing so.