What Are You Struggling With?

Ep18: Why Do Nurses Do It? Compassion Fatigue, Burn Out, and Kick A** Nursing Care!

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Let’s face it . . . nursing is HARD!  I have worked in many fields. . .  from the service industry to corporate America.

In no other job do people face the depth of stress that we do in nursing.  No other field sees the true sorrows of human existce as intimately as nurses.

Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

Is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper. – Dr. Charles Figley

We are bedside with families and patients in the most traumatic life events they will ever experience. I have held patients hands as they take their last breath.  I have hugged young children after their mother passes away.  This is a hard job . . . emotionally, spiritually, and physically . . . and sometimes socially.

Why Do Nurses Do It?

I had to ask WHY do we do this?  Do nursing students have any CLUE what they are getting in to?  Nursing schools prepare young students for the but do they prepare them for the REAL toll that nursing takes on you?

Compassion fatigue is what happens when nurses are worn out.  This podcast covers compassion fatigue and how nurses can continue to provide support and strength to families espite the drain of the job.  To read a great article about compassion fatigue visit: NRSNG.com/Compassion

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How will you handle seeing death the first time?
  • Can you experience joy and sorrow at the same time?
  • Can you ever really “let go” of work as a nurse?

My Experience with Compassion Fatigue

I remember about 8 months into my career in the ICU . . . I began to feel a REAL weight . . . a REAL sorrow . . . a REAL drain.

It wasn’t just when I was at work . . . the weight followed me throughout my daily life.

Walking into the unit began to bring almost an anxiety that I was unable to overcome.

I’m going to be 100% honest with you here . . . I know that some will call be a horrible nurse or a bad person, but what the hell, I want those that are struggling to know what it really feels like and how these feelings can be conquered.

The compassion fatigue began to become so real that I dreaded work, immensely. I began to almost resent my patients.  I began to find more and more ways to separate myself from them.  The truth is, I was simply looking for a way to cope with the terrible things I was seeing and dealing with daily.

I recognized the slump . . .here I was, a nurse who had been nominated for the DAISY award by patients on several occasions, now dreading taking care of those patients.

It finally got so bad that on the days leading up to my shift I began to experience depression.  I absolutely dreaded seeing the trauma, death, and pain that my patients where experiencing.

After about a month of this stress, depression, and personal pain I began to finally come out of it . . .what did I do?

It really came down to creating a sort of separation.  Let me explain.  At the end of the day you can only do what you can do.  I realize that is oversimplified, but when it comes down to it . . .you can’t SAVE your patients, you can’t rewind the clock and prevent a stroke, you can’t stop death, you can’t bring a mother back, you can’t make everything work out like you want.

Objective Subjective

It was a conversation that I had with one of the techs on my floor.

One night I was assigned to take care of a severely confusing brain mass patient who had already fallen 3-4 times in the couple of days leading up to me taking care of him.

I did everything I need to do:

  • Bed alarm on
  • Wife at bedside
  • Lights on
  • Sat right at the door
  • Nurse buddy to watch with me

It didn’t matter . . . around 3am he fell on the floor while trying to climb out of bed.

I was devastated.  How could I be a “GOOD NURSE” if my patients were falling on the floor.  I had failed.

The tech (an amazing person) took me aside and said:

“Jon, you can’t stop patients from doing what THEY are going to do.”

A simple line . . . but at that moment I finally realized that I can’t control my patient outcomes.  I can only do MY best.  I can care, I can shed a tear or two, I can teach . . . but I can’t control outcomes.

Don’t Burn Out

Listen. I know the struggle.  I know the weight. I know the unbelievable pain that nursing can cause to . . . nurses.

But I want you to stick with it.  I want you to take time for yourself.  I want you to do your best, give your best, but take care of yourself and realize you can only do what you can do.

Date Published - Dec 3, 2014
Date Modified - May 24, 2016

Jon Haws RN

Written by Jon Haws RN

Jon Haws RN began his nursing career at a Level I Trauma ICU in DFW working as a code team nurse, charge nurse, and preceptor. Frustrated with the nursing education process, Jon started NRSNG in 2014 with a desire to provide tools and confidence to nursing students around the globe. When he's not busting out content for NRSNG, Jon enjoys spending time with his two kids and wife.