Hopefully, it’s clear by now that nursing is as rewarding of a profession as it can be exhausting. Nurses of all walks of life and levels of experience eventually come up against the constant pressure of longer shifts, staffing shortages, and other changes in healthcare — each responding in their own way. Compassion Fatigue
Although we’ve been having the conversation over nurse burnout for years, the term is a bit broad at times when trying to hone in on the specifics that many professionals face. Beyond getting enough sleep, eating well, and generally feeling alert and well practiced, nurses working in highly emotionally-charged situations can cause what’s known as compassion fatigue.
For the nurses working in intense medical environments like trauma units and emergency rooms on a daily basis, it can be very difficult to deal with the stress of tending to very serious medical situations. A study found that 80% of emergency nurses experienced compassion fatigue compared to other selected inpatient specialty nurses. So what is compassion fatigue and how can it affect someone’s profession and personal life?
What is Compassion Fatigue?
To start, compassion fatigue can be thought of as a specific kind of nurse burnout. Whereas “burnout” generally describes the general state of being overworked, physically and emotionally stressed, and general exhaustion, compassion fatigue is when it becomes difficult to relate to patients on an emotional level in order to provide the most compassionate care possible. For those working in extremely stressful and emotionally taxing environments, this is a huge issue for the well-being of nurses and the safety and efficiency of a hospital.
The massive stress and emotionally callousness that can come as a result of compassion fatigue is something that needs to be recognized in the nursing community. With staffing shortages already putting a strain on how much work each nurse has to take on, it’s important to tend to those making an effort to stay with the profession to ensure they have the support needed.
For those nurses experiencing compassion fatigue, the symptoms can often be displayed as emotional distance, dissatisfaction, and an unwillingness to interact with others from a place of caring. Addressing these things with a nurse in your life or a coworker can be very tricky, as it’s common for people to dig deeper into unhealthy behaviors as a means of justifying their experience.
3 Ways to Start the Conversation
Research led by Dorothy Dunn, DNP, RN, and assistant professor at Northern Arizona University provided insight into the issue of compassion fatigue. Her research indicates that 3 general assumptions can be made when addressing the need for treating compassion fatigue in trauma nurses.
• Compassion Presence – The standpoint of being present in each patient interaction with the intention to have compassion, rather than sympathy, pity or altruism for someone.
• Pattern Nurturance – Paying attention to the interconnectedness of one’s own profession with the well-being of patients; essentially observing patterns of patients or stressful situations to gain insight and perspective on the value of compassion.
• Intention to Know – Recognizing patients as individuals and the unique values they hold as a way to promote energetic, productive, and uplifting interactions. Essentially, the facilitation of meeting someone’s psycho-social needs as a patient.
Understanding how to implement these 3 assumptions into one’s work as a trauma nurse, or really any medical professional in a high-stress environment can help with promoting compassion and avoid emotional, mental, and physical fatigue. Sure, it’s not always as easy as meditating on psycho-sociological concepts in order to maximize your professional approach to compassion, however, it can be the right start to gain perspective.
One solution to higher rates of compassion fatigue is the hiring of travel nurses, or even working as one yourself! By lightening the load of permanent staff, or just throwing a new professional into the mix, the goal is to keep medical facilities as efficiently staffed and compassionate as possible. Additionally, being able to recognize fatigue and burnout in your coworkers and offering support can make a huge difference in helping someone overcome their difficulties for a healthy, happy career in nursing!