Caring For Our Nurses
Imagine laying in a hospital bed experiencing great pain in your shoulder and you feel like your heart is going to explode out of your chest. You are experiencing headaches from caffeine withdrawals, and are in dire need to have any of the pain relieved. A nurse enters the room and says nothing, but you seek a comforting voice, asking for medication. Upon opening your eyes, you see your nurse stare at you with a blank face, then after a couple of seconds, the nurse sighs. Could this be a sign of empathy overload? How could so many caring nurses reach a point in which they lose emotion such as compassion?
One of the answers may be fatigue. According to the American Psychological Association, Nurses across the nation are fatigued. The physical, emotion, and psychological stresses from helping others has caused nurses to grow numb towards patients (1). That fatigue may be the effect of increased job stress. A study, conducted in 2003, stated that increased job stress can lower a nurse’s ability to empathize, disempower them, and experience burnout (2).
COVID-19 very likely accelerated the job stress nurses are experiencing. The four waves of the COVID-19 pandemic repeatedly put nurses in stressful situations where their personal and family health was threatened, endured extreme discomfort from personal protective equipment, adherence to stricter protocols, and informing family members of the deaths of loved ones (3). How many stories have you heard where nurses are leaving healthcare because of that stress?
It can be difficult to determine if there is relief in the near future because of the number of nurses leaving their profession amidst an ever-increasing demand for healthcare. Some sources estimate that over 1 million baby boomer nurses will retire between 2020 and 2030 (4), a situation not necessarily driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. To make the situation more urgent, the American Nursing Association expects that nursing will need to expand by 1.1 million in 2022 to avoid nursing shortages (5). Amidst the Great Resignation, will recruiting be possible or enough?
What can we do to care for those nurses who selflessly work to save others?
(1) Clay, Rebecca. “Are you experience compassion fatigue?” American Psychological Association, (June 11, 2020).
(2) Lee, H, Song, R, Cho, Y., Lee, G. Daly, B. “Nursing and health care management issues: a comprehensive model for predicting burnout in Korean nurses.” Journal of Advanced Nursing (Wiley-Blackwell). 44 no. 5 (2003 DEC): 534-545.
(3) Arnetz, J., Goetz, C., Arnetz, B., Arble, E. “Nurse reports of stressful situations during the COVID-19 pandemic: qualitative.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 17 no. 21 (November 3, 2020)
(4) Wood, Debra. “Nurse retirements: what’s happening and what to expect.” NursingJobs.com, (August 21, 2021).
(5) American Nursing Association. “the nursing shortage.” ANA Enterprise
Spending time at the Gemba (Actual Place) reveals much about the work lives of our frontline. When we have investigated the time needed to take care of patients under current processes, the capacity can be much less than what productivity numbers suggest. In other words, the frontline may be doing much more than what outsiders think. Fallacious reasoning is not the answer reducing overburdening.
It’s extremely difficult to work in these situations.. One solution is to show respect to our nurses. This is a lean concept and respect for people goes deeper than a simple nod or a kind gesture. I can go into all of the effects of this, but keep a lookout on future blogs for more!