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Compassion Fatigue's Surprising Costs

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   January 21, 2014

Nursing is 'Demanding and Difficult'
"Healthcare is a highly emotional[ly] charged environment, especially for nurses. With life and death decisions being made every day, it is no wonder nurses feel tremendous pressure," Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist, tells me via email. "They enter the profession with hopes of making a difference, but then after working a short time, they start to realize how demanding and difficult the job is."

Having recently been on the patient end of nursing care while my daughter, Chloe, was hospitalized earlier this month, I saw firsthand how calm, cool, and collected the nurses were who cared for her.

Emotions Run High
Who monitored Chloe 24/7, expertly navigating and anticipating every twist and turn of her condition? Who was endlessly patient and kind and unflappable when Chloe was scared and uncooperative? Who followed me into the bathroom and talked me off the ledge and let me cry into her arms?

And what do nurses do with all of that emotion? Where does it go if it doesn't come out during patient care?

Studies about compassion fatigue have shown that it can result in everything from headaches, to substance abuse, to poor judgment. And according to Smith, it can also result in nurse-to-nurse hostility.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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