Dealing With Compassion Fatigue


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs, Nursing News

Nursing is an incredibly important profession, but also an incredibly exhausting one. Few other jobs have such a large emotional component; nurses must deal with literally life-and-death situations on a daily basis.

The term “compassion fatigue” was coined about twenty years ago to describe the emotional state that some nurses reach when the emotional toll has become just too much.

An article in St. Louis Today outlines a program called which provides a curriculum for nurses wishing to become more emotionally resilient. You can’t control the stresses of nursing, but you can control how you respond to them.

The program’s curriculum taught the nurses five steps to resiliency:

• Self-regulation, which involves learning exercises to reduce stress when they perceive a threat.

• Intentionality, which reminds them to work according to their values and ethical codes rather than being driven by what others demand of them. “We remind them that in a hospital, there will always be demands; they’re never going away,” Potter said.

• Self validation, which let’s them know that they’re having a positive impact on their patients’ lives and to focus on their own values rather than reacting to others.

• Connecting with colleagues so they can support each other.

• Self-care which reminds them that caring for cancer patients hurts, and in order to continue doing their job, they must refuel.

They need to know when to walk away and do something else for their own benefit, Potter said.

Fourteen oncology nurses were enrolled in the pilot program. They met for 90 minutes, once a week for five weeks. It was so successful that they made the program available to all oncology nurses, and Gentry trained 25 physicians assistants, psychologists, chaplains and social workers how to teach the program to their colleagues.

“I have had to deconstruct much of my work that was developed organically and incrementally over several years, so that I can teach others (to teach),” Gentry said. “We are measuring the effectiveness of these models with the project at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.”

Reading about the challenges nurses face and the way they seek to meet the emotional needs of their patients, I was reminded that nurses are at the top of the list of trusted professions. Mary Stewart, a participant in the program, summed it up by saying, “We are taught in nursing school not to get close to patients, but we’re human beings and we’re helping these people on their journey through cancer, and you know some of them are not going to make it. You realize over time that you had a place in their life, and it’s an important one even if we can’t save them.”