How Nurses Combat Compassion Fatigue

Thank a nurse between May 6 and May 12, it's National Nurse's Week. Actually, thank a nurse any day you get the chance!

In preparation for last year’s National Nurses Week, my sister was part of a 3-person planning committee at the hospital she works for that brought in over 200 donated gifts, $25 gift certificates from a local grocery store, an improv comedy show, a Chinese lunch and a breakfast burrito feast. Spouses were included, too.

The slogan the team came up with was “Caring for yourself, while caring for your community.” There was no local press coverage or recognition of that nature. But the nurses did put an ad in the paper with their slogan thanking all the businesses that donated to their special week. Her hospital in Jackson, Wyoming, is the largest employer in town and definitely the largest employer of women.  

In prepping for Nurses Week and then pulling it off, she wanted to make darn sure all of her fellow nurses know how much they are appreciated. She is a thoughtful caregiver and habitual overachiever. A lot of people in the healthcare industry are. That can be good and bad.

We all want a professional who’s compassionate, kind, smart, empathetic, stable and respectful. Not everyone can pull it off, but those who do deserve a medal, in my opinion. My sister, the RN, has all of those qualities and so many more that you can’t learn from a text book. To me, it’s a gift. She is giving that gift to every patient she meets. And she is the real deal.

She’s also wise enough to know that nurses must take care of themselves emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually in order to give the best possible care to their patients and to avoid compassion fatigue - or burnout.

Textbook tips for combating compassion fatigue include ensuring a work-life balance, eating and sleeping well, exercising, taking time for yourself, planning a trip, getting massages and pedicures, and talking to friends, family or a professional. Within their own circles, nurses will tell each other to set boundaries, don’t work too much overtime, and be aware of signs of alcohol/drug abuse.

My best friend is a nurse practitioner. She, too, is a true talent and force to be reckoned with. I asked her how she deals with burnout and I can’t repeat her first answer. Her second choice for relieving stress is acting silly with colleagues and watching funny naughty animal videos.

One of the other most important women in my life was my mother, who passed away in 2012, at the age of 56. She was a nurse. If she were around today, I’d ask her the same question about compassion fatigue, but I already know what she’d do. She loved to sew, watch Jeopardy, read, cook, listen to music, and pet her dog. Like my sister and my best friend, my mom was an extremely caring and nice, yet strong, person.

How did I get so lucky in surrounding myself with such amazing, caring nurses who also happen to be amazing, caring women? I don’t know, but it’s a privilege and I’m thankful. Be sure to thank a nurse on National Nurse Day on May 6, or during National Nurse Week from May 6-12, or how about we just thank them on any day of the week at any time of the year.

4/13/2018 7:00:00 AM
Melissa Davidson
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Melissa Davidson has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana. Melissa focuses her time and energy writing about mental and physical health, endurance sports, and wellness. Find her on Twitter: @madtris
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