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Compassion Fatigue Affecting Nursing Care


Posted on Jan 16, 2012

The Wall Street Journal recently tackled "compassion fatigue," the condition medical professionals sometimes encounter when they suffer emotionally-draining events -- in conjunction with general burnout. It's like the post traumatic stress disorder of the hospital, and has serious consequences for patient care. The medical community is now actively combating the phenomenon.

Medical professionals, especially nurses (which the WSJ article focuses on), upon witnessing enough suffering, slip into a depression that may affect their own health and well-being. It can also "reduce nurses'  empathy and lead them to dread or even avoid certain patients." This prevents them from developing a relationship that makes assessing health problems that much easier. Moreover, nurses' introverted or disagreeable attitudes may  discourage patients from asking for help.

Compassion fatigue has been linked to poorer quality care, more sick days, and greater turnover. Over a quarter of out-of-work nurses reported encountering variations of compassion fatigue, according to a 2008 study. Increased death rates and slipping patient safety have also been tied to the same phenomena.

The medical community is pushing back, however. Independent nursing coalitions have been busy setting up nation-wide workshops and providing information over the internet. The workshops include meditation, physical stress-reduction exercises, and discussions. Support groups and staff retreats are also being organized and hospitals are setting up successful internal programs to help their staff to cope.

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