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Program Helps Nurses With Compassion Fatigue

February 10, 2012, 6:06 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Program Helps Nurses With Compassion Fatigue
SIOUX FALLS, SD - If you've ever cared for a sick grandparent, parent, or child for days, you know the experience can be wearing.

That can be especially true for nurses when their patient's condition does not improve or they die. But a program at Sanford is helping nurses deal with compassion fatigue.

Brenda Wolles enjoys helping patients such as Nellie Snyder, who was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But she admits it can be trying working on the oncology floor because cancer patients do not always have a positive outcome.

"It's much more difficult, I think, when you have a patient who has been here many times and maybe progressively gets more ill, because you get to know them personally too," Wolles said.

Unlike many other professions, nurses can't talk about their day openly with others after leaving the office because of patient privacy laws.

"The things we do aren't always easy and the conversations we have aren't always easy either," Wolles said.

But now Sanford nurses, such as Wolles, who work with patients in their last years of life, are able to come together and talk about issues, such as compassion fatigue, through the AgeWISE program.

"How do we address it? How do we support nurses, so they can continue to give the care they want and need to give?" Sanford Director of Medical Oncology Robin Randall said.

Sanford is one of six places around the country taking part in the pilot program.

"I think what we found that is most helpful to nurses is really giving them the opportunity to debrief or just talk about some of the situations that they're in and providing a safe place for them to talk about that," Randall said.

And by talking with other nurses about the problems she faces, Wolles says she's able to be a better compassionate caregiver.

"Just having that kind of conversation with other nurses is extremely helpful in renewing your spirit," Wolles said.

Some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue include muscle fatigue and tension, headaches, and a change in sleeping habits. Randall also says the program helps Sanford because compassion fatigue can cause a nurse or doctor to take more sick days.

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