Compassion Fatigue & Nursing







For any non-medical friends following this blog, it may come as a surprise that the words compassion and fatigue combined are a reality for many caregivers.  One pictures the bravery, kindness, and competence of a firefighter, nurse, or other caregiver-strong individuals who can handle any and every situation.  The reality sometimes could not be farther from the truth.

Compassion fatigue is defined as the “loss of the ability to nurture.”  It is considered a “cost of caring.”  While the symptoms are similar to those of burnout, the cause and onset are different.  Burn out is a result of job related dissatisfaction while compassion fatigue is more directly patient related.  Burn out occurs gradually over time while compassion fatigue can be more acute in its onset.  Could you be experiencing compassion fatigue?

Signs & Symptoms

Here are just a few:

  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Feeling of overwhelm
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Decreased Job Satisfaction
  • Pointing Blame

The Affected

Compassion fatigue can affect any professional caregiver.  Any healthcare worker is at risk as well as police, social workers and therapists.  Nurses, especially acute and intensive care, are at high risk.  Any nurse working in close proximity to patients that are suffering are at risk.  The risk to the individual is serious if untreated and can include anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease to name a few.

 Prevention & Intervention

 It is essential for the at risk population to balance work life with personal life.  The innate caregiver often spends more time caring for others than self which can quickly lead to an imbalance.  Self care is essential.  A healthy diet, exercise, and regular non work related activities can help maintain a balance.

In addition, it is important to be offered and attend debriefing sessions following a traumatic event in the workplace.  Often, the individuals do not even recognize the symptoms themselves.  As such, it is important to have regular on job education with regard to the risks and prevention of compassion fatigue.  Also, education in coping with grief and trauma should be implemented in high risk areas.

Nurses often play the role of both first and continued responder in the workplace which puts the individual at high risk for compassion fatigue.  It is important to be aware of the risks, signs, and interventions to ensure a healthy balance in the workplace.  Look out for one another, be kind to one another, help one another.  If you know someone that you suspect may be suffering, talk to them.  Start the conversation.  No more suffering silently.  Offer support, find help.  The medical community needs to better evolve to not only support our patients and protect our patients fully, but support and protect each other as well ❤



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