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Doctors, Nurses Battle Compassion Fatigue

Doctors, Nurses Battle Compassion Fatigue

United Press International

April 13, 2009

A U.S. doctor cautions that medical professionals who see their patients die are vulnerable to compassion fatigue.

Dr. Caroline Carney Doebbeling of the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis reviewed 57 compassion fatigue studies and says those working with the terminally ill need to be taught what to expect and how to deal with their experiences.

“We are taught in medicine to be brave and to be strong, but there should also be a time and place for emotional expression, and perhaps even for crying,” Doebbeling says in a statement.

“Doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare team must be steady sources of support for patient. But when the patient encounter is over, at the end of the day, the doctor or nurse or social worker or clerk needs to be able to process everything they have seen and experienced. We need to support people who work with the sickest of the sick.”

Those suffering from what began to be called compassion fatigue in the 1990s may create a distance from patients as a way of self-protection and develop symptoms such as chronic tiredness, irritability, lack of joy in life and destructive behaviors such as drinking to excess.

The findings are published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

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