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Take This Job and Shove It

And Other Things Nurses Will Never Say...

Every good care plan starts with an assessment. The first tool we use at CODE YOU is a compassion fatigue assessment. Have you heard of compassion fatigue? Do you know the difference between it and burnout?

We sometimes use these terms interchangeably but, they are different. Burnout, a term coined in the early 1980s, describes the physical and emotional exhaustion that workers can experience when they have low job satisfaction and feel powerless and overwhelmed at work. It's like an old 80s song by Johnny Paycheck, "Take This Job and Shove It." When in burnout, an individual's view of the world has not necessarily been damaged, or have they lost the ability to feel compassion for others.

On the other hand, Compassion Fatigue refers to a profound emotional, physical, and spiritual erosion that takes place when caregivers are unable to rest, refuel and regenerate. Nurses must have open hearts and minds to best meet patient needs. Unfortunately, this very process of empathy renders caregivers vulnerable to being profoundly affected and even possibly traumatized by their work.

It was a busy night shift as a hospice nurse. During a time where I was working 7 nights one and 7 nights off. I was homeschooling my 11 and 13-year-old girls and one of my daughters was struggling with self-harm and an eating disorder. All that to say I was overwhelmed and exhausted.

About 2 am, I received a call from a nursing facility notifying me that a patient I had visited earlier in the evening had died. It was my job to pronounce her death, support the family and make arrangements with the mortuary. On my 30 minute drive to the facility, I called the patient’s daughter. She did not answer so, about 10 minutes later I called again. Still, no answer and so I left a message. I typically would have just asked her to call me back however, I honestly have no memory of this, left a message notifying her of her mother's death. Two days later, I was called to my supervisor's office. She gently explained that a complaint had been made against me. I had no excuse. What I had done was terrible. I was numb. My heart still breaks for that family. In retrospect, I can see that I was experiencing compassion fatigue.

How about you? Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue has symptoms such as

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Intrusive imagery

  • Feeling discouraged about the world

  • Hopelessness

  • Exhaustion and irritability

  • High attrition (caregivers leaving the field)

  • Negative outcomes (dispirited, cynical workers remaining in the field, boundary violations)

Researchers have discovered that overtaxed caregivers and health care professionals begin to show symptoms very similar to those of our traumatized clients. These symptoms can negatively affect their lives and their ability to provide quality care.

Maybe CODE YOU can help you finish out a care plan for you?


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