January 6, 2012

Combating compassion fatigue

Daily Briefing

    The Wall Street Journal this week examined hospital efforts to reduce compassion fatigue in nurses, an occupational hazard that can increase the risk of substandard care.

    According to the Journal, nurses may develop compassion fatigue from a combination of witnessing patient suffering and burnout. The condition can cause nurses to feel sadness, which can adversely affect their own well-being, reduce their empathy, and lead them to avoid certain patients. Moreover, the Journal notes that studies have linked fatigue with lower productivity, more sick days, and higher turnover.

    Many hospitals and nursing groups have launched programs to combat the condition among their employees, the Journal reports. For example, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis developed a compassion fatigue course—that now is available to all hospital staffers—after noticing that nurses caring for very ill patients were experiencing high levels of stress.

    The class includes a checklist of compassion fatigue symptoms and teaches participants the importance of accepting their own limits, while thinking about caring "intentionality," which is the reason why they joined the medical field in the first place. The Barnes-Jewish program also gives staff members physical exercises, such as relaxing the pelvic floor to release tension, help control anxiety, and reduce stress.

    "Being a caregiver is difficult and full of challenges, and that isn't going to change," says Patricia Potter, director of research for patient-care services at Barnes-Jewish. However, she notes that nurses can learn to "self-regulate their stress and restore the energy they need to provide the best patient care" (Landro, Journal, 1/3).

    More from today's Daily Briefing
    1. Current ArticleCombating compassion fatigue

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