2016 Winning Essay

The 2016 A Nurse I Am Scholarship winners were asked to address the following:
As nurses continually interact with sick people, they may develop "compassion fatigue" over time and become hardened to the reality of difficulty and pain in patients' lives.
(1) Describe how one of the nurses in the "A Nurse I Am" videos overcame this challenge.
(2) How did their view of their patients help them maintain their compassion?
(3) Explain how you plan to maintain compassion in your nursing work over the long term.

Amy Smith

MGH Institute of Health Professions

The documentary did an excellent job in following the differing nursing careers of the 3 clinicians. I felt a connection particularly with Mona as she used her instincts, knowledge of her catchment area and critical thinking to develop the clinic she now runs. Her adaptability keeps her from suffering with compassion fatigue and gives her a fresh look on each day. Her nursing intelligence has taught her that every patient and experience is different so I think that has kept her grounded and able to present herself with empathy and clear headedness no matter how many hours she may have already worked that week. I believe that Mona no doubt has a good understanding of the warning signs of compassion fatigue and would take the necessary steps to alleviate the issue before it evolved into a compromising situation for patient and self.

While it is evident that Mona is fully invested in giving her "self" to each patient, according to the video there is no proof that she has fallen in to the first phase of compassion fatigue, that is, compassion is comfort. Compassion discomfort is "characterized by weariness, diminished enthusiasm and ability, weakening attention, and increasing impatience." (Potter.M.L & Moller.M.D, 2016, pg 114). If she were to show signs of compassion discomfort then I think that her supportive co workers would give her feedback and her close family would be aware of the situation and raise a red flag for her. Mona made time in her life to drive her tractor and work on her land. This seemed to be her form of therapeutic respite.

Each of the nurses in the video made a conscious decision to treat every patient as if they were a family member. They kept their nursing oath very close to their practice goals and individualized each plan of care to reflect the needs of specific patients at specific times. The male nurse was often under acute stress in treating children who he did not know were going to live or not. He said he spent a lot of time sitting with patients and answering questions, listening and being a support. To be able to focus your attention on the patient rather than all the infusion machines is a special gift that more nurses should be skilled at practicing. On a tough day he would go to the hospital chapel and sit and talk to God. This aided him in being able to return to the floor ready for the next challenge. I truly think that all the 3 nurses showed incredible levels of Compassion Satisfaction - "a sense of fulfillment, value, and joy derived from helping others, (and) can often buffer compassion fatigue." (Potter.M.L, & Moller.M.D, 2016, pg 588).

I am a novice nurse at the moment, but I have a lot of life experience and have been an inpatient many times in various locations. My love for people is at the center of my practice already and I plan on developing a practice in an institution or environment that supports mindful nursing practices, civility in the workplace and respite for all clinicians. As I get started in my career in nursing I plan to continue regular yoga practice, spend lots of time with my family, continue education in nursing fields that interest me and rely on my peers to help me debrief particularly emotional situations. Every new nurse should be aware of programs and resources in their state that offer support to them and not be afraid to make use of them if they start to lose sense of their personal nursing goals. It is only human to be affected by the deep, intense emotions of others. It is purely the resources that are in place and the ability to adjust and reflect on issues that can keep a nurse in a long term compassionate and focused practice.

Potter.M.L & Moller.M.D (2016) Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing: From Suffering to Hope. Pearson
Education, Inc. USA.

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