"In the medical literature, you don't hear much about compassion fatigue," Doebbeling said. "There's a smattering of it in the nursing literature, and most of it has come out of the nursing social worker psychology literature. And it's been looked at in cases of a terrorist attack like 9/11 or a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina."
But for those workers, the burnout is more acute. More typically, compassion fatigue "is an insidious process that eats away at people," Doebbeling said.
People experiencing more chronic compassion fatigue pointed to giving patients and families bad news, treating pain and family issues as large stressors.
What are some ways to combat the syndrome?
Maintaining a professional network of people who are also grappling with these issues is one way, Doebbeling said.
"There is an awareness that witnessing often quite traumatic situations for patients and families is emotionally burdensome for staff, and there are efforts to incorporate counseling into the work environment through peers," O'Mahony said.
Supervisors are also being trained to identify burnout, especially when it reaches the point that it can impact the patient.
According to Carol Taylor, director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the article also points to the need for health care professionals to find balance in their lives. "The article discusses practical, personal and institutional strategies for coping," she said.
O'Mahony said he and his team now meet once a week to discuss and deal with emotions linked to patients who had died the previous week.
Setting realistic goals is another key, Doebbeling said.
"You become a doctor or a nurse because want to save people or help people. Nowhere along the way d
All rights reserved