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Compassion in nursing: What does your ‘gauge’ say?

Martha Tice, RN

Martha Tice, RN

By Martha A. Tice, RN, MS, ACHPN
Clinical Nursing Editorial Director

Is your “compassion” supply running low or already on empty? Complex caseloads and time constraints  — the reality of work life for nurses in 2013 — can leave you feeling weary.

Take a moment to visualize yourself with a patient in a scene that reflects why you became a nurse. What do you see? Do monitors, alarms and IVs come to mind with you busily performing “skilled” tasks? Or do you see yourself sitting next to your patient, listening and perhaps touching his or her hand? Hopefully, you see a skilled clinician performing tasks with compassion. Whatever you visualize, does it reflect your work reality?

I am going to go out on a sturdy limb and guess that your reality involves skilled performance of tasks, but that taking time to listen to patients’ stories is often pushed down the priority list. Yet compassion is an essential component of nursing care that provides a sense of role satisfaction. We see that reflected in many of the End of Shift stories found on With increased responsibility for assessment and interventions to improve patient outcomes, compassion can take a back seat. And, quite frankly, caring for patient after patient who is suffering can take its toll.

So what can nurses do to experience the rewards from providing compassionate care without falling victim to compassion fatigue? Common sense tells us self-care (eat well, exercise and get adequate rest) plays a role in being resilient, but let’s revisit something I addressed in my Aug. 5, 2013, blog.

Rachel Naomi Remen, author of “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” said she believes that when we approach our work as healthcare providers from the perspective of helping and fixing those we care for, we drain our energy and compassion. Shifting the focus to serving can be healing for both the patient and the caregiver. Listening to our patients’ stories helps us to find meaning and value in what we do, and along the way serves to heal people, even when we can’t cure them. I know it served me well for more than a decade while caring for patients at the ends of their lives. I believe this focus can make a difference in any care setting where nurses work. If you haven’t found a place that looks like the picture I asked you to visualize, Rachel would say you have to build it for yourself. You can do that one patient a time.

Continuing education resources:

Compassion fatigue: When caring hurts

Surviving caregiver stress syndrome

Advocating for patients at the end of life: Their rights and limits and your ethical responsibility. This course is FREE till Jan. 11, 2014.

By | 2020-04-15T16:41:11-04:00 October 28th, 2013|Categories: Archived|2 Comments

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