Caregivers and compassion fatigue

By Sheryl Kay • Published: July 9th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Ever meet an impatient doctor or a cranky nurse?

Sure, we all have bad days, but studies now show that health-care professionals have more than their fair share, and it’s all because they care in the first place.

Compassion fatigue is a term coined back in the ’90s and refers to an emotional detachment taken on by those in the health-care profession to protect themselves from the anguish they might feel in working with the sick or dying.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers found that not only was the syndrome prevalent among doctors and nurses… it also resulted in many debilitating behaviors.

The researchers analyzed fifty-seven studies conducted between 1950 and 2008 that involved the investigation of compassion fatigue and its related symptoms.

Those suffering from the condition often reported feelings of pessimism, apprehension, boredom and irritability. There were also several instances of problem drinking, and decreased productivity, more sick days and higher turnover in the workplace.

Researchers noted that over the years, the syndrome has largely been ignored. This becomes even more significant today as health-care professionals see higher volumes of patients than ever before, and have even less time to establish a personal rapport.

The study concluded with several suggestions for combating the problem, including early training in coping mechanisms. The hope? That doctors and nurses will be better able to emotionally support their patients… and each other.