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Stressed Health Care Workers Battle 'Compassion Fatigue'
Date:4/10/2009

It's an emotional detachment that can have an impact on patients, experts say

FRIDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- A type of emotional burnout called "compassion fatigue" is common among doctors, nurses and other health care workers tending to people with cancer, yet experts say little research has been done on the phenomenon, which can lead to anxiety, cynicism, chronic tiredness, irritability and problem drinking.

Often these health care workers become emotionally detached to protect themselves from the feelings of loss that accompany losing a patient. Some end up leaving their jobs.

"It's a chronic exposure to really tough circumstances," explained Dr. Caroline Carney Doebbeling, a research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute and associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. "It's very important to explain why is it so hard to keep nurses, why is it so hard to keep people going in patient care for the men and women who go into fields like oncology or AIDS treatment."

Doebbeling is senior author of a study in a recent issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.

Compassion fatigue "is very common," confirmed Dr. Sean O'Mahony, medical director of palliative care at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "As health care gets busier and busier, and more complex with technological advances, that's higher volumes of very sick patients for, unfortunately, shorter periods of time. I think it's very easy to try to pull back from the emotional impact of seeing other people suffering."

According to the paper, the term "compassion fatigue" emerged in the 1990s to describe the mental distancing some health care professionals develop as a way to protect themselves.

To learn more, the researchers reviewed 57 studies with the keywords "compassion fatigue" published from 1950 to 2008.

Only one of these studies lo
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