Just how does compassion fatigue (CF) get the upper hand in the lives of so many healthcare and human services workers? I believe it all starts with T-I-M-E.
Tedious & Tireless Tasks:
Tedious & Tireless Tasks take up more and more of time, leaving less room for connecting in positive ways with patients and coworkers. Healthcare professionals spend hours on the phone or making chart notes, affording less time to sit and talk with their patients—to connect on a human level with them.
Individual Exposure to stories of the traumatized day in and day out makes what can become a lasting imprint on the psyche. All the stories blend into one big tragic story without closure, or more often with a tragic ending. This is especially true for ER and trauma workers, who spend the majority of their time with patients swiftly patching them up for transfer to a different floor. This leaves the medical worker with little to no closure. Since a large number of patients leave the ER in such bad shape, it is hard for a healthcare worker, who has no time to follow up with each individual patient, to imagine a best-case scenario, even for those who are optimists.
Mums the Word:
Mums the Word. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the medical community, and it must be maintained. However, there has to be an avenue for drawing on our experiences to connect with our patients and also a safe place within the confines of an organization to debrief. Lack of time and resources, as well as the “buck-up” or “grin-and-bear-it” mentalities which run rampant in many medical organizations reinforces a code of silence, forcing most to bottle up their emotions and keep on trucking. Such healthcare professionals never deal with their unresolved feelings and frustrations related to their jobs and the heart-wrenching stories they hear day in and day out.
Emotion Stuffing. Aside from the possibility that your organization may not provide a safe environment for sharing feelings, there is a certain amount of “turning off” a caregiver has to do in order to move from one crisis to another without melting down, passing out, or refusing to return to work the next day. Day after day, the rush and grind of the job can eliminate all possibilities for personal or professional debriefing. Without this time to process through the events of the day, the water in the well of stuffed pain begins to rise. That pain will eventually leak out in irritability or anger.
In addition to this fun and informative acronym for TIME, the actual passing of time also plays a role in opening the doors for compassion fatigue to sneak in. When pressed for time, most medical professionals compensate by multi-tasking. They eat lunch while they dictate, or they do chart notes while on hold with insurance companies, or they read medical journals while sitting at stop lights in their cars. The constant message of “there isn’t enough of you to go around,” fortifies the practice of cutting out the very things that make a person feel human—exercise, relaxed meals with family and friends, prayer/meditation, sports, and hobbies. It takes a very strong inner core to withstand the onslaught of external pressures to do more, be more, and have more than any one human being was ever meant to do, be, or have. Understanding The Care & Compassion Cycle and developing a sound self-care plan are key to defending against this deadly foe. We will talk about the Care and Compassion Cycle in our next post. Stay Tuned!
Angela Magnotti Andrews is a freelance writer who has co-written several courses for ClickPlayCEU.com, including “Compassion Fatigue”, “Hand Hygiene: Life & Death is in Your Hands”, and “Pain: Friend or Foe”.