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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Operating Room Nurses and the Risk of Compassion Fatigue

Operating Room Nurses and the Risk of Compassion Fatigue
Operating room (OR) nurses play a vital role in healthcare, often working long hours under stressful conditions to care for surgical patients. This high-stress environment puts OR nurses at risk of developing compassion fatigue over time if not properly managed. Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress disorder, refers to the emotional and physical exhaustion that can occur when caring for others in emotional or physical pain. It is a serious occupational hazard for those in helping professions like nursing.
OR nurses are on the frontlines of healthcare, witnessing trauma, illness and human suffering in the operating room on a daily basis. They form close bonds with patients and feel the weight of responsibility for life-or-death situations. Constant exposure to stressful events can deplete nurses emotionally and physically if they do not take enough time to care for their own well-being. Compassion fatigue occurs gradually as the effects of stress accumulate over months or years. Early signs include increased irritability, detachment, exhaustion, and a sense of hopelessness. Left unaddressed, it can lead to more severe consequences like depression, substance abuse and thoughts of leaving the profession. (Figley, 1995; Potter et al., 2010)
There are steps OR nurses can take to help prevent or mitigate compassion fatigue:
Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Long shifts without adequate rest put nurses at higher risk. It is important to take regular days off and avoid bringing work stresses home.
Practice self-care activities. This may include exercise, meditation, spending time with family/friends or engaging in hobbies. Self-care helps replenish depleted energy levels.
Seek peer or professional support. Speaking to colleagues or a counselor about work stresses can help prevent feelings of isolation. Many hospitals now offer employee assistance programs. (Sabo, 2011)
Foster resilience. Resilient nurses are better able to cope with challenges without burning out. Developing resilience involves reflecting on work in a positive light and maintaining optimism.
Set boundaries with patients and leave work at work. While compassion is important, nurses must avoid taking on the emotional burdens of patients and detach when their shift ends.
Advocate for workplace improvements. Hospitals can support nurse well-being by providing adequate staffing, limiting overtime, and promoting a healthy culture.
In conclusion, compassion fatigue poses serious risks for OR nurses that deserve attention. With self-care, support from colleagues and employers, and resilience training, the negative effects of this occupational hazard can be reduced. The well-being of nurses is crucial to delivering high-quality patient care over the long-term.
Figley, C. R. (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. Routledge.
Potter, P., Deshields, T., Divanbeigi, J., Berger, J., Cipriano, D., Norris, L., & Olsen, S. (2010). Compassion fatigue and burnout: Prevalence among oncology nurses. Clinical journal of oncology nursing, 14(5).
Sabo, B. M. (2011). Reflecting on the concept of compassion fatigue. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 16(1).

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