The purpose of this paper is to discuss the significance of Compassion Fatigue (CF) and its effects in the lives of caregivers. A caregiver is defined by dictionary.com as an individual, such as a physician, nurse, or social worker, who assists in the identification, prevention, or treatment of an illness or disability (dictionary.com). Caregivers may also include family members, friends or neighbors who voluntarily have accepted responsibility for looking after a vulnerable neighbor or relative. For the purpose of this paper, the primary caregivers discussed will be nurses. Most nurses chose nursing as a career because they have the desire to both help people and provide care for patients with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Having this desire puts nurses at risk for suffering from CF. CF can affect nurses in many areas such as physically, emotionally, in job performance, as well as their attitude toward the work environment, coworkers, and their patients. Nurses suffering from CF may experience emotional symptoms that include, but not limited to; poor concentration, decreased focus, poor judgment, mood swings, irritability, anger and resentment (Eyre & Lombardo, 2011). Work related symptoms that may be experienced are; avoidance or dread of working with certain patients, reduced ability to feel empathy towards patients or families, and frequent use of sick days (Eyre & Lombardo, 2011). Physical symptoms often experienced are; headaches, digestive problems: diarrhea, constipation, and upset stomach, sleep disturbances: inability to sleep, insomnia, or too much sleep, and cardiac symptoms: chest pain/pressure, palpitations, and tachycardia (Eyre & Lombardo, 2011). If compassion fatigue continues and no interventions are implemented to combat it, full Burn Out will result. Burn out (BO) is defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration, which gradually builds to a breaking point (www.merriam-webster.com). Nurses suffering from CF or burn out are unable to provide their patients optimal care. In order to build a healthy relationship with patients, a nurse must have a lot of compassion. CF prevents caregivers from showing compassion as well as preventing them from providing effective care because they are tired, unmotivated, and not giving prompt attention to their patients. This is problematic because patients want and deserve not only good clinical care but also the feeling and warmth and compassion from their nurse. When a nurse is experiencing CF or BO he or she may be plagued by negative emotions which include frustration, anger, depression, feeling stuck, feeling paralyzed, irritability toward coworkers and clients, cynicism, bitterness, and being negative about self, others, and the world in general (Espeland, 2006). What patient wants or deserves a nurse who has thought tendencies such as these? It may also cause a hostile work environment for their coworkers as well. Their family life is also affected.
The main cause of compassion fatigue is the increasing workload of healthcare. Nurses frequently feel overworked and overwhelmed by competing demands on their time. Nurses and other caregivers are required to put in much more time dealing with inflexible aspects of healthcare such as completing paperwork and computer documentation (Windsor, 2007). They are also encouraged to see more patients in less time, leaving much less time for the nurse/patient relationship (Windsor, 2007). Many times nurse have to work short staffed, but are still expected to complete all components of the job. Increased patient load and the desire to complete all task without the possibility of overtime causes nurses to use their lunch hour or stay late to complete task and complete charting. Thus, in trying to save time, they eliminate the very things that replenish their physical, emotional, and spiritual stores such as exercise, family...
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