According to oncnursingnews.com, compassion fatigue affects 16-39 percent of all nurses at some point in their careers. While any nurse can experience compassion fatigue, those who work in oncology, ER, hospice, and pediatric settings are most likely to experience burnout and compassion fatigue. Generally, nurse burnout is a more personal experience, while compassion fatigue is more of a relational experience. Although symptoms can be similar, the difference lies in the motivation behind the symptoms. Since compassion is a vital component of a nurse’s job, it is crucial that compassion remains high among nurses. When compassion fatigue leads to a mistake, it is time to speak to the highly skilled nursing license defense lawyer at Forshier Law.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
In the nursing field, compassion fatigue is quite common, occurring when a nurse gradually becomes less compassionate to his or her patients and their medical challenges. Compassion fatigue causes intense physical and emotional exhaustion, along with changes in the ability to feel empathy toward patients. Severe compassion fatigue can result in an inability to feel care and empathy toward family members and co-workers as well. Compassion fatigue can result from the following:
- The dwindling resources of medical facilities
- Highly stressful work environments
- Continual exposure to patient trauma
- Long shifts and too much overtime
- Heavy caseloads
- Risks associated with assault and abuse from patients
While nurses with compassion fatigue and burnout may both experience physical and emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue is different in that the nurse’s fundamental beliefs about the world have been altered and damaged by repeated exposure to the trauma of patients. Nurses who work in professions where the death of patients occurs often—like oncology or ICU—are more likely to experience compassion fatigue. In addition to affecting nurses and other medical professionals, compassion fatigue ultimately affects the patients as well. When nurses have compassion fatigue, their patients tend to receive lower levels of quality care. Nurses who experience compassion fatigue may have the following symptoms:
- Constant, extreme exhaustion
- A disruption to the overall worldview
- Low job satisfaction
- Reduced ability to empathize with others
- Increased irritability and anger
- Extreme anxiety
- A diminished sense of self-worth
- Irrational fears
- Dreading going to work
- Increase in work absences
- Showing up late to work on a regular basis
- Impairment in making well-informed decisions
Case Illustration of Compassion Fatigue
Jim attended nursing school, planning a career in cardiac nursing. Following graduation, Jim began working in a busy cardiac unit, seldom taking breaks, and quickly becoming the leader of the unit. The workload for Jim was consistently high but his patients were often very ill. Within a short time span, Jim lost three patients. Due to staffing shortages, Jim was asked to work longer shifts, racking up lots of overtime. Dealing with the intense workload and a high volume of patients—many of whom were very ill—began changing Jim’s feelings about his job. Jim began coming in late, rarely offering to take on challenging patients as he once had. He soon became apathetic, having little compassion for his patients, and operating in total exhaustion more often than not. Jim experienced depression and anxiety and his physical health began deteriorating as well. Jim’s supervisor noted the changes in Jim and suggested Jim change to a less-stressful specialty. Jim eventually did change his specialty after receiving support for his compassion fatigue.
What is the Difference Between Compassion Fatigue and Nursing Burnout?
Although compassion fatigue in nursing and nursing burnout both bring mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, there are differences between the two. Compassion fatigue results in an emotional disconnection from others—patients, loved ones, friends, and co-workers. Headaches, intense sadness and grief, avoidance of certain patients, nightmares, and changes in fundamental belief systems are all hallmarks of compassion fatigue. Symptoms of compassion fatigue can mirror those of PTSD—psychological distress, cognitive shifts, and muscle tension. Nursing burnout, on the other hand, results in cynicism, negativity, frustration, anger, and withdrawal. Compassion fatigue is the result of repeated exposure to traumatic incidents. For a nurse, this is usually in the form of terminally or severely ill or injured patients. Nursing burnout is caused less by the patients themselves and is more likely due to poor work culture, and the specific attributes of the job, including working long hours. While burnout generally emerges gradually, over time as a lack of resources and long shifts continue unrelentingly, compassion fatigue may come on without warning after an extended time absorbing the trauma of patients. In short, compassion fatigue is the impact of helping others, while burnout is the impact of an overly stressful workplace.
How Can You Avoid Risking Your Nursing License Due to Compassion Fatigue?
When a nurse suffers from compassion fatigue, the outcomes may be averse for patients. When this happens, the nurse risks losing his or her nursing license as a result of poor quality of care. The key to avoiding risking your nursing license due to compassion fatigue is to recognize the signs and symptoms, then get the help you need. Nurse compassion fatigue is manageable and treatable, however, treatment can be more difficult when the organization you work for doesn’t believe it is real. When the organization recognizes compassion fatigue, it is much easier to develop a supportive work environment. A supportive work environment is one that encourages a realistic workload for nurses, offers sufficient mental health days, and provides support, including collaborative peer support. From a personal standpoint, improved self-care is the key to dealing with compassion fatigue. Self-care includes taking advantage of free time to enjoy hobbies, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and talking to someone about your feelings. Nurses typically put the needs of others before their own but to heal compassion fatigue—or even prevent it—taking time for yourself is essential.
How a Nursing License Lawyer from Forshier Law Can Help
If you are a Minnesota nurse suffering from compassion fatigue that is threatening your nursing license, attorney Barbara Forshier can help. Barbara worked as a nurse for thirty-five years before becoming an attorney specializing in nursing license defenseAfter obtaining her law license, Barbara worked both as an attorney and a nurse before retiring from her nursing duties to dedicate her practice to fighting for the nursing licenses of others.
At Forshier Law, LLC, Barbara understands how important your nursing license is. License defense is all we do at our law firm, so you can feel secure knowing you have chosen an attorney with extensive experience in nursing and law to handle your nursing board complaint. You do not have to face this challenging time alone—contact Forshier Law, LLC today.