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The dangers of compassion fatigue

Nurses are the frontline of patient care, making them the most susceptible to compassion fatigue, a state of mental exhaustion caused by caring for patients and their family through times of distress. It’s important that nurse managers are aware of the risks, identify the signs in their staff, and provide guidance to nurses that need it. While the increase in stress and unhappiness caused by compassion fatigue are evident, some of the other consequences are less obvious:

Increased medical risk: Compassion fatigue can lead to an increase in medical errors due to a lack of communication or inability to react. Nurses suffering fatigue can become unsympathetic, self-centered, and preoccupied, to the detriment of a patient’s care. To read more about this connection and how to counter it, check out Reduce Nurse Stress and Reduce Medical Error from HealthLeaders Media.

Decreased retention: The increased stress and potential trauma associated with compassion fatigue can drive new nurses away from the field. The American Association of Colleges of Nurse reports that 13% of newly licensed RNs work in a different career within a year of receiving their license, and 37% said they were ready to change careers. Many reported that the significant, ongoing emotional stress was a factor in their dissatisfaction.

For more information on combating nurse fatigue, check out the Health and Wellness section of the Strategies for Nurse Managers Reading Room:

Don’t underestimate damage caused by burned out nurses

Preventing nurse fatigue
Beat nursing stress and stay calm and collected

Educating staff about compassion fatigue

While many nurses know about compassion fatigue, they might not know exactly what it is, why it happens, or how to identify it in themselves. In a recent blog post, Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio tackled some of the most common myths associated with compassion fatigue.

Not me!
One of the most common misconceptions about compassion fatigue is that your compassion is a limited resource, and if you can still feel compassion for a patient, it must not pertain to you. More likely, you will experience symptoms in other aspects of your life, such as physical or mental exhaustion, dreading going to work, worrying and dwelling on possible errors, or becoming easily frustrated with coworkers. So even if you feel empathetic while you’re with a patient, you could still be suffering from compassion fatigue.

Work harder! Nurses tend to throw themselves into their job head-first, but that approach can be detrimental when dealing with compassion fatigue; your instinct to work harder to overcome challenges at work will not help you here. It’s important to maintain a work-life balance, and compassion fatigue is often caused by overwork and neglecting yourself.

Patients first! Nurses take great pride in the care they give to their patients, but it should not come at the cost of caring for yourself. The best way to provide consistent and outstanding patient care is to take care of yourself first, by taking time for yourself, away from alarms, patients, and colleagues. Make sure that both you and your staff take their breaks and use their time off.

Check out the articles below for more information about compassion fatigue and solutions to your health and wellness problems.
Preventing nurse fatigue
Take Five: How renewal rooms revive stressed out nurses
Worker Wellness: Fatigue and Burnout