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Coping with the Loss of a Patient

How do you cope with the loss of a patient?

I started writing this post in February of 2021, two years later, I am still haunted by a particular case. I know, if you’re out in practice long enough, it is bound to happen. This does not make it easier.

We, the veterinary professionals, are perfectionists. We want everything to go perfectly. This is not a realistic view, because sadly, we cannot save them all.

When I lose a patient, I question every step before that. Should I have done this? If I had done that, would it have changed the outcome? I am not talking about cases where finances were an issue and we had to cut corners to try to do our best with the funds that were available. I am talking about young, apparently healthy animals, that you just do not get enough time for a work-up and treatment to save them. Or you went down one path, while waiting for diagnostic testing results, only to realize your treatment plan was too conservative. Too little, too late.


This will be dependent on your own personal situation. It will depend on mentorship, and the relationship you have with your colleagues. I am fortunate to have five other general practitioners in my hospital. So, the first thing that I do is mention to my colleagues - I lost a patient. These are the items I have identified that could have gone better. Is there anything else? Some will say, I would have done the same thing. Some will give advice on how things could have gone better. Talking it through with your colleagues is the best way to learn for the future. You have to really try hard to not beat yourself up about it.


You may not think that crying is going to be very fruitful. But the stress or emotions that you suppress, or as they say, bottle up, will come out eventually. It is better to talk and cry it out when you can, because if you do not allow yourself to have these feelings, it will go somewhere else. The last thing you want is to take it out on your family or significant other when something small they say ends up being the last straw.

Join a Support Group

I specifically did not say therapy, because I still believe that they best people to talk to are the ones who work in the same profession. Vets4Vets is a group that was created by the VIN foundation. Whether you are a newly graduated veterinarian or a seasoned practitioner, the group can help you talk through your pains and hopefully allow you to pull through to the other side.

Know that you are not alone.

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