Hospitals use creative arts to help nurses fight compassion fatigue

Hospitals are trying creative methods, such as offering knitting classes, creative writing and dance to help nurses relax, re-energize and prevent or overcome burnout, The Washington Post reports.

Although all healthcare staff are vulnerable to "compassion fatigue," nurses are especially at risk for becoming overwhelmed and depleted, Cynda Hylton Rushton, a professor in the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, told the Post. They "provide direct, 24/7 care, and they often must confront the limits of what medicine can do for people," she said. "Nurses can begin to feel helpless or have a sense that they are not actually helping. They can begin to question what they are doing and how they are benefiting others."

Experts say preventing professional burnout also is a critical component of quality patient care. "When the clinician suffers, so does the patient," Rushton said. "We don't provide the quality care we want to offer when we ourselves are depleted."

To combat compassion or empathy fatigue, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., offers nurses a chance to express themselves through creative arts, including journal writing, dance and movement, quilting and painting. In some cases, artists work with nurses for only a few minutes at a time to help them manage stress and develop coping skills. And a local nonprofit, Project Knitwell, offered Alexandria, Va.-based Inova Mount Vernon Hospital nurses a knitting class to help handle workday stress.

But hospitals don't have to resort to special classes to help prevent compassion fatigue. Barbara Lombardo, a nurse practitioner at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio, told the Post sometimes it helps to just make sure nurses take a lunch or dinner break, take a walk, or go to the lounge for a break. "There are things people can do in just a few minutes to refocus on themselves," she said.

The empathy fatigue isn't unique to U.S. hospitals. U.K. hospitals also report the same problem and are rolling out a program to 55 hospitals to help prevent healthcare staff from experiencing burnout, according to The Guardian. The American-style sessions, known as Schwartz rounds, call for staff from different disciples to talk about their feelings about their jobs. And though the talking sessions may not solve compassion fatigue, Noreen Wainwright, a former psychiatric staff nurse and charge nurse, wrote in The Guardian that it's a good place to start.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article
- see the story in the Guardian