The 'creative' solution to fighting compassion fatigue

Burnout prevention can improve patient care

Topics: Nursing, Patient Experience, Quality, Performance Improvement, Outcomes, Employee Engagement, Workforce

June 13, 2013

In the Washington Post this week, Janice Schuster spotlighted hospitals' efforts to prevent compassion fatigue in their nursing staff by offering creative arts classes and programs.

Fatigue therapy improves nurses' ability to provide care

According to Cynda Hylton Rushton of the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, nurses at high risk of compassion fatigue and are more likely to feel "overwhelmed and depleted." She notes that front-line staffers "must confront the limits of what medicine can do for people," which can make them "feel helpless or have a sense that they are not actually helping."

Rushton notes that patients suffer when a clinician struggles with burnout or fatigue. As such, providing breaks and activities that prevent professional burnout improves care and patient outcomes, Rushton told the Post.

Nurse practitioner Barbara Lombardo—who has conducted research on compassion fatigue—says preventing burnout is mostly about the basics. For example, she urges facilities to ensure that nurses are taking their breaks, getting outside, or simply taking a breath. She also recommends that nurses "[f]ollow healthy living interventions," such as exercising and eating healthfully.

"There are things people can do in just a few minutes to refocus on themselves," Lombardo added.

Hospitals offer art classes to combat fatigue

At the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., officials have taken burnout prevention a step further by offering an arts and humanities program where clinicians can work through compassion fatigue by painting, quilting, journal writing, dance, and stretching.

The sessions give staff members an opportunity "to say something about their experiences, to solve problems, to come to terms with what they've experienced," says program director Nancy Morgan.

Through the program, volunteers and paid professionals teach clinicians stress management and how to develop coping skills through the arts-focused offerings.

Related: Reducing RN burnout could save lives, cut hospital spending

At Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, nurses can attend knitting classes intended to help them cope with work stress. Nurse manager Freda Osei—who initially was skeptical of the classes—says, "it was great just learning a new skill. It was so calming. After I learned the initial stitches, I just went home and kept going" (Schuster, Post, 6/10).

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