EDITORIAL: Rebecca Myatt, R.N. - London, UK
There is no doubt that compassion fatigue can have a crippling effect on a nurse. The daily grind of caring for others leaves limited emotional resources available for self-care or recognizing and dealing with the stress associated with this type of work.
My career in the England National Health Service (NHS) can now be measured in decades as opposed to months or years. As a junior nurse, I remember feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility that came with the fob watch and uniform. But as time has moved on, my desire to help and care has not diminished. Those coming to hospital for treatment, whether anxious, scared, confused or angry can tax my resources, but I still feel a buzz with every problem solved and a sense of pride that I have helped someone negotiate a difficult journey in their own life.
I know I am fortunate – I work in a large Trust that can accommodate part-time hours, and there is opportunity for clinical supervision and reflection or counselling through my employer when this is needed. I have three children and a loving husband to balance my time, and I have supportive non-nursing friends for coffee and emotional support outside of work. I have had fantastic opportunities for study and travel throughout my career and I maintain my academic interest through research, writing and teaching.
My worry, though, is for the junior nurses today. Financial constraints and time pressures leave little time for the fun side of nursing. Spending time with someone and getting to know their story is an amazing privilege, and genuine interest cannot be feigned. If work becomes a constant to-do list with no time to care, the joy can quickly diminish.
Study brings enormous benefits which can rejuvenate both practitioners and their practice. But in my recent experience, there is less and less paid study leave available. Using annual leave (vacation days), days off, self-funding or juggling hours to pay back time can lead to resentment and reluctance to embrace some of the amazing opportunities for learning that healthcare offers.
Compassionate, enthusiastic, intelligent role models seem few and far between these days, and there is more focus on completing the paper work and ticking the box, than on embracing the moment and engaging fully with the person in front of you.
So for me, any fatigue is related to concerns about administration, finances or the future of the profession. But right now, I am able to overcome this with a productive day at work, reassuring an anxious patient with a chat, a phone call to someone who has recently been discharged, or making a cup of tea for a worried relative.
A simple smile, laugh or "thank you" tops up my compassion reserves, enabling me to continue to give my best to those who need it most.
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