Practitioners' First Choice
Practitioners' First Choice

Do nurses experience higher rates of compassion fatigue due to overwork as caretakers?

Those who choose to nurse, do so because they are people who have empathy and compassion. Nursing is a vocation where we want to make people better, we care, we want to make a difference.

But what happens when a nurse’s work and home collide?

How can we expect an individual to simply walk away from dealing with life threatening situations, life saving codes, wound management, end of life care, trauma, pouring empathy and sympathy. To then, with a flick of a switch, cuddle her child, read a bedtime story, reassure her child that the sun is shining, protect them from reality, ensure they feel protected and gently wrap them in an envelope of love and security.

Long shifts, pulled in many directions, high expectations, juggling shifts, home admin, school clubs, birthday parties, training, relationships and parenting. It’s tough.

After a long day showing empathy, giving sympathy, supporting others who could be having the worst day of their lives, people who need you – a nurse to care for them, someone to rely on.

How is it then possible to reserve even an ounce of emotional energy for those you love at home? Ultimately there will be a time (or a few!) when a partner or child and family will take a hit. That is, you arrive home and have no emotional energy for them. No one can withstand the extreme pressures of such an emotionally and physically draining job, to then, return home, full of ‘bounce’ and vitality. Simply slot into the role of home maker, wifey, mummy, daddy, partner. Unlike you, they didn’t work tirelessly on someone’s chest, saving a life whilst their family watched on, begging you and praying that you save their life.

Nurses do experience a higher rate of compassion fatigue, this by no means is saying we can’t do our job – nurses are a special kind of person who just get on, tirelessly. Is there any other profession that has so many expectations? Demands so much from a human being? I’m struggling to think of one. I am a practising nurse with a young family and a partner. I feel there are ways to blend the two.  

For example, a hot debrief after an incident really does help the brain to filter through the events that have just happened. The BMJ published an article on introducing Hot Debrief into the ED. The results showed that 90% felt they benefited psychologically from the process, which is an incredibly positive statistic for all the participants. This is a great way to help keep work at work and thus prevent nurses bringing home emotive, destructive feelings. Feelings we will inevitably struggle with after big, emotionally charged events.

Another way I help juggle the strains of nursing placed on family life, is setting aside individual time for each child. Whether that’s reading at bedtime, playing games or going out. The latter might not happen as often as one would want, but when it does it brings us all back on the same page which is important. 

A positive work/homelife balance is crucial too. But in order to achieve this we must be disciplined! In that, I mean, we must feel able to say no. We must protect not only our families, but our own emotional well- being. That in turn, I believe, will also make for better nursing. Having the confidence to say ‘no’ didn’t come easy. It took practice, being assertive and staying professional.

I think each nurse experiences ‘The Burn Out’. Where your compassion and drive can so often be exploited by our understaffed and stretched medical services. Always asking you to give more, squeezing every ounce of life from you.

With your compassion and dedication towards your patients,  and a need to ease feelings of guilt, you say yes.

Speaking from experience, there’s been tired arguments at home where work has taken over slowly, often without me noticing. Events I’ve missed with my kids that I’ll never get back because I just couldn’t say ‘no’. I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and admit I’ve given in to the pressures of colleagues begging me to work because they will be awfully short staffed without me.  The price I paid was high, the negative impact on my family. It took me a while to get a ‘back bone’ in regards to my family and patient priorities. It felt strange saying “no I can’t work, it’s my day off and I need a rest with my family” even though I had no proper plans.

However, since being more disciplined with what I agree to do, I’ve noticed a positive change and resulting impact on both my parenting and my relationship. I’m able to pour myself into my family because my cup isn’t always half empty any more.

Harriet Hill, RN
Instagram: @hillclinics


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