The role of a nurse is a complex one. Not only is this individual responsible for the physical bedside care of multiple patients, but may also be called upon to offer emotional support for patients and their families. While this is an absolute honor and a privilege, it can also be emotionally draining and lead to burnout syndrome or compassion fatigue. In order to ensure that patients receive the highest quality care, we must make sure that nurses have support for their own emotional well-being.
One of the most difficult situations a nurse can experience is losing a patient. No matter the situation or how long the patient was under a nurse’s care, it is hard to ignore the fear that something more could have been done. With the introduction of technology and a digital record of a patient’s stay, care teams now have objective data that can be reviewed and assessed after an incident. Simply knowing what exactly happened can relieve an element of stress, because the unknown is often more terrifying.
By reviewing these records as a team, nurses also benefit from an objective, clinical process that removes the emotional chaos. Instead of wondering whether it was an isolated event that caused the patient to deteriorate or a symptom that had been trending for days, nurses can find emotional support from leadership and peers. By using these sessions as learning experiences and refusing to point blame at any one individual, these reviews can foster positive physician-nurse collaboration, building a foundation of trust for an environment where both parties can confidently work side by side.
Lean on Resources
While nurses must remain focused on caring for their patients, the families and loved ones of these patients often need support and information as well. This is particularly important for high-stress wards like the ICU and pediatrics. By identifying and leveraging resources within the hospital – whether a social worker, chaplain, or the resident psychologist – a nurse can ensure that the family has the resources they need and are treated with the respect they deserve.
Ask for Help
Nurses can’t be afraid to ask for help. One of the most beneficial things a nurse can do is identify a mentor that can offer both emotional and clinical support. Having someone to turn to in times of duress or confusion can make a significant difference in a nurse’s experience – as well as a patient’s. As this mentor is usually someone who can recognize emotional fatigue, avoiding burnout before it happens helps ensure everyone’s health and care remains the top priority.
Another resource: other nurses! Forming a peer group within the hospital that meets on a regular basis creates a forum to share experiences and stressors. Open conversation can ease the burden of feeling alone and provides a safe space within the context of a group who would understand.
With the right resources and approach, finding and maintaining a balance between investing in patients’ well-being and preserving a nurse’s own health can be much less daunting. Remembering that a hospital is a community – and everyone is working toward the same goal – can make a significant difference in a nurse’s life.