Study: Nurses that show more compassion suffer fatigue, stress

Pressure to appear compassionate and caring around the clock is leading to emotional exhaustion in nurses and midwives, new research from the United Kingdom revealed, according to The Telegraph.

University of Bedfordshire researchers Gail Kinman and Sandra Leggetter surveyed 351 nurses in training. Those who were required to show more compassion every day were significantly more likely to suffer stress outside of work, including fatigue, low moods, withdrawal from friends and family, and feeling unable to "switch off" after work. The study also found nurses have a better work/life balance when they have proper emotional support.

Researchers asked nurses in training how often they were required to empathize and express sympathy, and whether stress affected their personal lives. Those nurses who often displayed compassion were much more likely to become emotionally exhausted, researchers found.

"It's important because these nurses are already showing signs of emotional exhaustion very early on in their careers," Leggetter wrote. "In order to retain your own health as a nurse you have to be able to switch off. What we need to do now is develop ways for nurses to find emotional boundaries between themselves and their patients."

Kinman and Leggetter, who are expected to present the study results this week at a British Psychological Society conference, suggested hospitals can better support nurses by offering peer coaches and reflective supervision, where they are encouraged to share problems with each other and senior members of staff, according to the article. They also suggest nurses write down their thoughs and feelings.

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., combats compassion fatigue by offering 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.

But burnout isn't just bad for nurses--it can also directly affect patients. In a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, more than a third of nurses reported being burnt out, contributing to higher rates of healthcare-associated infections including catheter-associated urinary tract infections and surgical site infections (HAI), FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's The Telegraph article