Most nurses choose their field because of their compassion, caring, and desire to help others. However, the problem of nursing burnout and compassion fatigue has exposed an irony. Many nurses don’t take proper care of themselves. When nurses are heavily burdened, but not taking care of themselves, it leads to burnout or fatigue.
Burnout can affect more than ⅓ of nurses on the job. And, when a nurse has experienced on-the-job burnout, he or she may also subsequently suffer compassion fatigue. Nurse burnout affects the healthcare system in many ways. Most importantly, nurse burnout is causing high rates of turnover in the field -- turnover rates that are not being offset by new nurse graduates.
Nurses can become burnt out because they believe they lack social support, or are unable to control their work schedule or assignments. Their work environment may be too chaotic or too monotonous, or they can’t maintain a good work-life balance. Short staffing is often the primary contributor. Further, extended work hours and little time for rest breaks can lead to nurses’ disturbed sleep patterns, elevated stress hormones, poor dietary choices, and mental health issues.
Compassion fatigue is different from burnout in the sense that it is often rooted in a nurse’s extreme empathy for a patient and/or his or her family. Also known as secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, compassion fatigue causes emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion from witnessing and absorbing the problems and suffering of others. It most often affects caring individuals who are prone to neglecting their self-care. Compassion fatigue can affect nurses in many ways and in different aspects of their lives. Symptoms can include:
Facilities that wish to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, as well as aid those nurses who experience those conditions, can ensure that employee assistance programs are in place. Employers can also develop other support systems, such as:
Do you suffer from burnout or compassion fatigue? Have you overcome it? Leave a comment below sharing your experiences.