Emerging evidence describes some of the heavy tolls that health professionals experience as they deal with loss of patients, traumatic situations, supporting families and the overall stress that comes with the nursing profession as a whole. Each patient and family has particular needs (physical, psychological, social and spiritual) and are deserving of expert care, and it is this intensity of need that places nurses at risk of professional compassion fatigue (Melvin, 2012). Presented in this writing is the definition of compassion fatigue, related concepts to compassion fatigue, description of a model nurse who has compassion, description of a nurse who has compassion fatigue, nursing implications of compassion fatigue and personal aims after reviewing compassion fatigue.
The terms professional compassion fatigue, burnout, and accumulated loss phenomenon have all been used to refer to the cumulative physical and emotional effects of providing care over extended periods of time. These include anxiety, intrusive thoughts, apathy, and depression. A trend seems to have emerged where nurses seem to have lost their “ability to nurture” (Jenkins & Warren, 2012). Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they have been taught to do since nursing school: They work harder and continue to give to others until they are completely tapped out (Pfifferling & Gilley, 2000). Definition of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue has been defined as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress. Although many definitions of compassion fatigue are now found in the literature, Joinson (1992), a nurse, was the first to describe the concept in her work with emergency room personnel. She identified compassion fatigue as a unique form of burnout that affects individuals in caregiving roles (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011). Compassion fatigue has also been described as a natural consequence of caring between two people, one who has been traumatized (the patient) and the other who is affected by the firsts traumatic experience (the nurse). Compassion fatigue can have a sudden onset and have a devastating effect on the nurse, both personally and professionally.
Review of Literature
Becoming a nurse and caring for others can be very rewarding and fulfilling. However, caring for those in need can also lead to severe stress in all areas of nursing (Abendroth, 2011). The term compassion fatigue was first introduced by Figley in 1983, who defined it as a state of tension and preoccupation with the cumulative impact of caring. Figley identified that compassion fatigue is experienced by those who help others in distress. He reasoned that nurses were at a particular risk for compassion fatigue because compassion and empathy are core values of nursing (Figley & McCubbin, 1983). Nurses are often routinely exposed to considerable pain, trauma, and suffering and hence they may be predisposed to being wounded by their work. Although it is a privilege to care for those in need, there is a cost to caring. Compassion fatigue has also been described as a heavy heart, a debilitating weariness brought on by repetitive, empathic responses to the pain and suffering of others. Compassion fatigue can also manifest from nurses absorbing and internalizing the emotions of clients and sometimes co-workers. Nurses collect bits and pieces of their patients’ trauma by exposure to their lives. Many professionals carry these bits and pieces as images in their minds and intense feelings that affect them physically and emotionally at the end of their working day. Those who are strongly empathetic may be most at risk for compassion fatigue. Such experiences frequently result in health...
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