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Compassion Fatigue's Surprising Costs

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, January 21, 2014

Exhaustion is nothing new in the world of nursing, but the emotional and physical toll of doling out high levels of empathy must be addressed by leaders who have the power to make positive changes.

The need to be constantly compassionate saps nurses of energy and can lead to poor judgment, and worse.

Researchers, who presented their study this month at the British Psychological Society's annual conference, found that emotional exhaustion was especially prevalent among nurses who needed to show high levels of empathy and compassion every day, such as nurses who care for children and hospice patients.

The researchers, who surveyed 351 nurses about their work and home lives, also found that this fatigue could spill into their home life and personal relationships.

Compassion fatigue is nothing new in the world of nursing, but this new study struck me because it came on the heels of the annual Gallup survey showing that the public, once again, has voted nursing the most ethical profession.

Seeing those two pieces of news together stopped me in my tracks. Wow, that's a lot of pressure, I thought. It's a practically impossible standard of goodness. Nurses are not only expected to be expert clinicians, but also near-angels. It's no wonder they are utterly exhausted on every level, both emotionally and physically (12-hour shifts, I'm looking at you).

 

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