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Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue:  The Next Pandemic to Impact Nursing

Angel McCullough DNP, RN, MBA, NEA-BC, FACHE

Compassionate care has long been the cornerstone of nursing practice. Compassion Fatigue (CF) is stress that results from exposure to a traumatized individual.  With its far reach, CF has the ability to impact health care workers in every area of practice. Whether in Academia, Healthcare Leadership, Clinical Practice or Research, this phenomena has the power to change you without you even knowing.

Compassion Fatigue, much like the Covid-19 pandemic, has the potential to have a devastating national impact on the wellbeing of patients and caregivers.  This article will provide critical knowledge to Nursing Leaders on how to educate and protect their staff, themselves, and other members of the healthcare team from falling victim to this phenomenon.

The impact of CF resonates through the healthcare system as a contributor to the global nursing shortage. The nursing profession represents the highest percentage of the healthcare worker population and is experiencing  the greatest shortage according to the World Health Organization (WHO).   As of 2017, there were 20.7 million nurses worldwide, encompassing virtually half of the healthcare worker population. In 2030, there is a prediction that there will be a global nursing shortage of 7.6 million (WHO, 2017). This severe nursing workforce crisis, coupled with both an overburdened healthcare system and a CF pandemic impacting nurses who remain at the bedside, can have a calamitous effect on global health.

The fundamental  question is  “How do we protect health care givers from being struck by compassion fatigue leading to burnout, and subsequently leading to good people leaving the health care workforce at alarming rates?”.

The answer is elemental – we teach them how to reconnect and stay connected with their personal “why” in the field of healthcare.  We remind them of the very things about the job that make their heart sing, and we create space, with intention, for people to stay grounded and connected.  This will  combat compassion fatigue and burnout.

Healthcare is not for the faint or weak-hearted.  It is extremely difficult for human beings to choose a profession where they bear witness to human suffering each and every day and somehow manage to find meaning in their work.  I am a firm believer that with intentionality it can be done.  Empathy and compassion is truly the heart and soul of healthcare, and without it people will have a difficult time healing.  We cannot cure every ailment that patients present with, however we can introduce and allow space for healing by simply creating a safe haven for patients where they feel accepted, protected and seen.

The Covid-19 Pandemic showed us that trust is a very important paradigm when it comes to the delivery of healthcare.  Patients must trust doctors, doctors must trust patients, and health care workers must trust each other to get through.  Trust, and connection with one’s true purpose and meaning in the work that they do, will be the antidote that allows us to eradicate this pandemic of Compassion Fatigue that threatens our healthcare system today.