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Understanding Compassion Fatigue | Nurse Burn Out: Proving ‘Compassion Fatigue’ Exists

Nurse Burn Out: Proving ‘Compassion Fatigue’ Exists

As we end 2011 and begin a new year, I’d like to share some exciting developments with nurses around the country by beginning with an intriguing question, “What if ‘compassion fatigue’ had a physiological component with biochemical factors?”

All of you know too well about nurse burnout, a general vernacular term for ‘compassion fatigue’. You know it’s real and in fact the concept of ‘compassion fatigue’ has been around for quite some time. Acknowledged in most medical and nursing circles as a condition, ‘compassion fatigue’ has never been put under the microscope until now.

Florida Hospital Cancer Institute in Orlando, Florida is beginning scientific research in January, 2012. Collaborating on this critical project are professionals from Florida Hospital, The University of Central Florida, and The Pabst Foundation. Leading the team is Charles Miceli, LCSW, BCD. Currently, Mr. Miceli manages the Oncology Social Work Department at the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Miceli about this compelling new project at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. I hope you find what follows as intriguing as I do.

Margery Pabst: Thanks for taking time to talk with me Chuck. Tell us why you think this research is so critical.

Charles Miceli: There are a number of reasons. Putting compassion fatigue under the microscope may determine factors that are affecting the health of nurses and help us see firsthand the connections between emotional and physical health. We are looking for biochemical outcomes with identified compassion fatigue inpatient oncology nurses.

MP: So give us a thumbnail sketch of the project and how research will be carried out.

CM: Under a strict research design, inpatient oncology nurses will have blood drawn with certain markers being analyzed for biochemical changes. We are hoping to demonstrate that what we see for nurses suffering from compassion fatigue will be different from those nurses not suffering from it. In addition, we will be doing a qualitative study using a professional quality of life survey. I’d like to emphasize that this has never been done before.

MP: Kudos to Florida Hospital and to you for spearheading this research. As a person keenly interested in the quality of life for all caregivers, I can see the implications not only for professional caregivers like nurses but also for family caregivers.

CM: Thanks to you Margery and the Pabst Foundation for underwriting this research. I know you have long believed that the emotional life of the caregiver is intimately linked to the physical stresses that caregivers, both professional and family, endure.

MP: Thanks Chuck. What implications does this research have for nurses’ lives and for healthcare in general?

CM: Once the physiological components of compassion fatigue are demonstrated by the research, our work will reset the compass and confirm that for those working in the caring professions, the effects of working for prolonged and excessive amounts of time with populations of ill and suffering people can and does impact the quality of life for those carers. We are confident that our research will be fruitful and that others will continue to develop research in this direction.

MP: So what are the implications for bottom line impact?

CM: Yes impact will be on several levels. Acknowledging compassion fatigue and the professional caregiver’s suffering will help us develop ways to create awareness both for nurses and for the those leading the health care systems in this country. I predict that initiatives will be created to assist nurses and other healthcare professionals to develop and to maintain personal resiliency. The result will be that those who have chosen healthcare as a profession will be better able to enjoy and be productive in their chosen vocation. And of course bottom line personnel costs are positively affected and service to the public enhanced.

MP: So what happens with this research in the short term?

CM: The most immediate is our plan to create a research based set of training materials designed to increase awareness, skill, and personal resiliency for nurses and other medical professionals.

MP: Thanks so much Chuck. We all look forward to the day when compassion fatigue is acknowledged and treated. All of us will be the winners. Thanks so much for sharing your research with us.

Margery Pabst is the co-author of Enrich Your Caregiving Journey the winner of the 2010 “Caregiver Friendly Award”. The focus of her book deals with the emotional needs of the caregiver and provides specific, doable tips for taking care of yourself in both professional and family caregiving situations. Margery is a national speaker and facilitator on caregiving, health literacy, and storytelling. Her keen interest in the Compassion Fatigue Project stems from her long time interest in identifying the sources of emotional stress and for creating personal resilience. Access her information at







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