Stress, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue in the Emergency Department
Nursing is a field that many enter with the intention of helping and providing care to those with mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011). Many consider nursing as their calling; yet have not prepared themselves for the emotional and physical implications that come from having interpersonal relationships with families and patients. As nurses care for the ill, traumatized, and vulnerable patients in their charge, they inadvertently expose themselves to the pain, suffering, and trauma that their patients are experiencing on a regular basis.
When the continued stress of this field is not dealt with, one can become a victim of the overwhelming need that surrounds them, which can result in burnout or compassion fatigue. This not only effects ones physical and emotional health, but also results in decreased productivity and job satisfaction, as well as increasing job turnover rate (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011; Boyle, 2011). This concept is predominantly true of those working in the Emergency Department, and is actually where the context of compassion fatigue was first noted approximately two decades ago, but is also seen across the spectrum of health care providers in all areas (Boyle, 2011).
This topic will be discussed further in the words following, as well as an exploration of ways to overcome compassion fatigue in the workplace.
Definition of Terms
In order to understand this topic, one must first define the words that are being discussed. Stress is generally defined as one’s appraisal of a demand that is placed on them, and the perception of one’s ability or resources available to meet this demand. Stress occurs when a specific demand exceeds the perceived capability, thereby triggering the stress response, which is associated with compromised cognitive function needed to process new information (Tucker, et al., 2012). Stress differs from person to person, and is dependant on how one reacts to a changing situation. It is thought to be neutral, and is beneficial up to a certain point due to its ability to heighten awareness for a short period; but the excessive prolonged pressure of stress can become harmful due to inefficient coping abilities, and is a precursor to burnout.
As defined by the Journal of Emergency Nursing, burnout is, “the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations” (Hooper, et al., 2010). Burnout is a concept that stems from discord within the work setting, and arises when goal achievement objectives are not met. It has a gradual onset that progressively worsens as a result of daily stressful demands, sense of inefficiency, and emotional exhaustion, resulting in indifference and disengagement in the work environment. Burnout most often arises due to a mismatch between an individual, and the demands of a given job (Sabo, 2011).
Compassion fatigue is...