Box 1.

A typical student reflection

I entered my family liaison role having never been on an ITU and only ever having had fleeting interactions with relatives. Suddenly I am the point of contact between critically ill patients’ families and ITU.
The first few phone calls were difficult. It was hard to know the right words to say, how much information to give and the tone in which to give it. As I learnt more about intensive-care medicine and witnessed conversations between consultants and relatives my uncertainty began to ease and my confidence grew but, as time passed and the words came more easily, the conversations only became more difficult. Through days of speaking to relatives I had formed relationships; I knew the person at the other end of the phone and I liked them. Hearing the news that a patient's condition had deteriorated was not only sad, it now came with a burden; I had to break the news to someone I cared about. I knew that empathy was necessary for a clinician but I've now had to learn to deal with its weight; to feel the sadness of a family before moving on to feel the sadness of another.
But alongside sadness I have seen kindness and resilience. In a time when it may have been weeks since they last saw their loved one, when they can't visit them and can only wait for the next phone call, relatives have been nothing but thankful and full of words of praise. I am amazed by the resilience of these families and will always remember their strength and kindness.