The loss of a patient to suicide has an enormous impact on clinicians, but few studies have examined its effects.
In this retrospective study, we compared clinicians who have and have not experienced a patient suicide using a survey of 2157 outpatient clinicians from 169 New York clinics to determine differences in their suicide prevention knowledge, practices, training, and self-efficacy.
Approximately 25% of the clinician respondents lost patients to suicide; psychiatrists, nurses/nurse practitioners, and those with more years of experience were disproportionately affected. After controlling for these demographic/professional differences, clinicians who had experienced patient suicide reported feeling that they had insufficient training, despite actually having more suicide prevention training, greater knowledge of suicide prevention practices, and feeling more comfortable working with suicidal patients than clinicians who had not lost a patient to suicide. There were no differences in self-efficacy or utilization of evidence-based clinical practices.
Controlling for demographic/professional differences, clinicians who experienced a patient suicide had more training, knowledge, and felt more comfortable working with suicidal patients. It is critical that sufficient training be available to clinicians, not only to reduce patient deaths, but also to help clinicians increase their comfort, knowledge, skill, and ability to support those bereaved by suicide loss.