Compassion fatigue is a real issue in the world of healthcare. If left untreated, it can derail the wellbeing of a facility’s staff, as well as the cohesion and success of each department. To protect the staff under them and to ensure smooth operations, healthcare facilities need to do whatever they can to combat this prevalent condition. The right answer changes, depending on circumstances, but nonetheless this guide is here to help. To get you started, we have listed a number of popular measures that facilities can use to combat compassion fatigue directly.
What is compassion fatigue?
Before we proceed any further, it is important to define what compassion fatigue even is. ScienceDirect defines it as a “secondary stress reaction” where someone experiences a ‘reduced” reaction or interest in the suffering of people around you. In other words, HCPs start feeling less empathy or connection with a patient, thanks to repeated exposure to these scenarios and job-related stress. Compassion fatigue symptoms mirror that of burnout and secondary traumatic stress. HCPs become more cynical towards their job, and have a more difficult job carrying out their tasks properly.
Healthcare work is more than just rote skill and memorization. There is an emotional element that cannot be replaced, as nurses, doctors, and other HCPs must connect with their patients to build trust and enable a holistic care process. Without that empathy or investment, the quality of care suffers as a direct result. Nurses can try to “cover this up,” but patients can sense authenticity. Less investment in your work can also result in more sloppy mistakes, which can have huge consequences in a field like healthcare.
What can be done?
As was mentioned earlier, there is no quick and easy way to fix these issues. However, facilities should strongly consider implementing one (or more) of the preventative measures listed below:
Improve work-life balance
Many of the exacerbating factors that lead to burnout also lead to compassion fatigue. Long and grueling work hours grind on your compassion, until there is nothing left. Facilities must allow for better work-life balance, so that HCPs do not feel so worn down by their work. They deserve a chance to rest, recover, and tend to their personal hobbies. Pairing with VitaWerks helps lighten the load for permanently staffed nurses, by bringing in per diem HCPs who can ease some of the burden. With more hands on deck and better staffing ratios, less time will be spent on overtime hours or carrying a heavier workload than is sustainable.
Bring in counselors
Enlisting the help of qualified and trained experts may be the solution you are looking for. Qualified helpers such as therapists, counselors, certain nurses, and more could provide counseling sessions and actionable advice to HCPs suffering patient fatigue. These will not solve the underlying problems, but it can empower HCPs with the knowledge and the tools needed to cope better with the onset of compassion fatigue,and with their workload in general.
Support group sessions
Related to the previous point, bringing in HCPs for group counseling sessions is a powerful intervention. It gives a space for nurses to share their grievances, communicate with one another, and connect on a deeper level. Your facility can offer workshops and counseling sessions on the weekends or on free days, as organizing them during the work week may prove to be impossible.
If you possess the resources, there are nontraditional forms of therapy worth considering. Art therapy, for example, provides a space for HCPs to express themselves and release tension in that manner. There are also massage therapy sessions that provide much needed solace from the physical and mental rigors of healthcare work.
Go out there!
The measures listed above are just the start. As we established earlier, there is no one-size fits all solution. It is up to the facilities to invest properly and find the measures that best work for their culture and context. Making these investments may seem costly in the short term, but they are worth it. Healthcare staff has to be protected, for their sake and the continued success of the facility. Compassion fatigue is a real issue, and must be addressed as such to prolong careers and ensure happiness from every level of healthcare.