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Compassion Fatigue's Surprising Costs

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, January 21, 2014

"What I have noticed… is that nurses tend to take out their frustrations on each other. There is a saying that 'nurses eat their young.' And I have found that to be true," she says. "Their culture has been built around the idea that new nurses need to jump through hoops and learn the hard way."

Smith says that nurse leaders need to break this toxic tradition and instead help them navigate the profession and its challenges in a more productive way.

Leadership Needed
"Instead of throwing them to the wolves, leaders need to become mentors. Hospital leadership must understand compassion fatigue and how it affects the nurses, and ultimately the patients. They must work to create a culture of caring as opposed to a culture of curing," she says.

"And this caring must extend out to their staff. When the majority of caregivers become compassion fatigued, the organization itself takes on the symptoms of compassion fatigue. And this affects everything, including the bottom line."

If nothing else, the threat to a hospital's bottom line should be enough to shake nurse leaders into action. "Somehow staffing must be scheduled to allow regular breaks and lunch breaks. The nurses must take accountability for themselves and practice authentic, sustainable self care daily. This means eating well, exercising, building a strong support system, and learning appropriate ways to communicate needs," Smith says.

"Additionally, they must strengthen their resiliency in order to keep returning to their work daily to provide healthy, ethical, and healing care."


Alexandra Wilson Pecci is a managing editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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