If you ask nurses why they chose their profession,
the majority usually mention they want to help
or take care of people, particularly during difficult
times. Helping patients improve their health and
recover from injury or surgery can be extremely
fulfilling. Unfortunately, not all patients recover
completely or at all.
Taking care of seriously ill patients for long periods
of time can take its toll on caregivers, most often
nurses. Nurses have been feeling the effects of what
is now identified as compassion fatigue for decades.
Stress, depression and feelings of inadequacy are
some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue.
Geary Gardner, BSN, RN, CCRN, lead charge nurse
and clinical educator on unit 5900, the bone marrow
and stem-cell transplantation unit, has experienced
firsthand the impact of compassion fatigue. In the fall
of 2011, Gardner was ready to quit nursing so he took
some time off from work. “I was exhausted mentally,
physically and emotionally and, although I had a
chance to reboot, it wasn’t enough,” says Gardner.
At the same time, Barnes-Jewish Hospital was
launching compassion fatigue training, specifically
designed for nurses like Gardner who are feeling burned
out. Although skeptical, Gardner attended the training.
Afterward, he felt a sense of accomplishment.
“The compassion fatigue training helps nurses who may
be experiencing symptoms but we don’t pay attention
because we’re so focused on taking care of others.
We don’t realize what’s going on and when we do, we
think it’s something else,” says Gardner.
Gardner was so receptive to the training, he decided
to become one of the hospitals’ 25 facilitators. Since
then, he has trained many nurses, several on his unit.
The full-day training requires three facilitators who
take turns presenting the different components
of the course, which include:
- “intentionality"—the caring intention that brought
them to the health care field in the first place—while
accepting their own limits in doing only the best
they can on any given day
- creating a support network
- understanding the effects of stress on the body
Gardner prefers the section on physiology since,
as a nurse, that’s his area of expertise. “The training
teaches practical applications that help nurses realize
what’s going on and helps them relax the nerves that
are stressed. It’s a form of self-regulation,” he says.