Stress Taking Toll on Nurses’ Compassion

When you’re in the hospital, doctors might call the shots on the big decisions, but the quality of your stay is extremely dependent on nurses—particularly their competence and compassion.

But what if your nurse just doesn’t have time for the compassionate part of caring for you? You might be getting better physically, but it can be a pretty miserable experience.

Unfortunately, such scenarios are growing more and more frequent . . . at least in the UK, according to a recent study of the National Health System (NHS).

Financially strapped and with 24,000 vacant nursing positions, the NHS faces a bit of a compassion crisis these days. Eight in ten nurses report that increased demands on their time are making it harder to serve patients with care and compassion.

Staff reductions, time pressures, bed management, and administrative tasks prevent nurses from taking enough time with each patient. The stress is driving many nurses to tears on a daily basis, according to the report.

The study also examined how nurses rely on “virtue-based reasoning”—bringing compassion and honesty into their work. Research found that experienced nurses rely on their moral compass less than nursing students—a factor that, combined with stress, can lead to burnout.

“This is in contrast to our studies of other professions—such as lawyers and teachers—where reliance on virtue-based reasoning is shown to increase with experience,” the study reports. “What this means in real terms is that in nursing, considerations of the right thing to do in moral dilemmas are reduced to a mechanical adherence to written rules and codes. This means for nurses, the job becomes something of a tick-box exercise that is inherently unprofessional and demotivating.”

It’s not just a UK issue. American nurses are also burning out, leading to inadequate care, staff shortages, staff morale issues, and poor patient engagement, according to MedEd & Wellness. Another study examined the impact of occupational stress on “caring behaviors,” while another reported that more than 60 percent of nurses say they have suffered the side-effects of work-related stress, such as physical or mental health problems.

The issues are so prevalent and pressing that the American Nurses Association (ANA) declared 2017 the “Year of the Healthy Nurse,” providing resources “to improve the health of the nation’s 3.6 million registered nurses and in turn improve the health of the nation.” Those resources include tips on combating stress and monitoring one’s well-being.

The pervasiveness of nurse stress and distress is a serious concern—certainly for the nurses themselves, but for the rest of us too. Whether it’s just a relatively routine appointment for a sore throat, or an event that sends us to the emergency room, or a long-term stay in the hospital recovering from major surgery, we need nurses to be on top of their games.

Doctor visits and hospital stays are never fun anyway, but caring, compassionate nurses can go a long way toward making such experiences more tolerable, even at times enjoyable. They can make the difference between despair and hope, between shame and dignity, between misery and comfort. They can make you feel little, or they can make you feel loved.

It’s to everyone’s benefit to have well-rested nurses, so they be on top of their games—in competence and compassion. To the nurses reading this, we salute you, and thank you. And if aren’t a nurse, take a moment to thank one you know today. Nurses hear plenty of complaints, and that certainly adds to the stress. A kind word can go a long way.





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