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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Posted By: Advancing Care

Schwartz Center Compassionate Rounds help heal WMC clinical and support caregivers.

By Laurie Yarnell

It’s no secret that taking care of others, particularly in a clinical or medical setting, can take its toll on the caregiver. This extreme stress, often referred to as “compassion fatigue,” can result from helping those experiencing trauma or suffering, explains Rev. John Simon, M.Div., MTS, BCC, the Director of Integrated Patient Experience and Chaplaincy at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).

What makes clinical caregivers so susceptible to this kind of emotional burnout? “Those in the medical field have a nurturing personality, which draws them to want to help alleviate others’ pain and suffering,” says Rev. Simon. “This desire, coupled with the constant emotional drain of caring for patients and their loved ones, can push one toward compassion fatigue and eventual burnout.”

One important way in which Westchester Medical Center helps care for its caregivers and support teams is by participating in Schwartz Center Compassionate Rounds (SCR). This nationwide program (theschwartzcenter.org) is devoted to compassionate healthcare, explains Rev. Simon. Thanks to a three-year grant from the Schwartz Center and the Greater New York Hospital Association, Westchester Medical Center launched its first SCR in 2017.

“SCR is a judgment-free space,” explains Rev. Simon, “in which we can share our stories; find support and care; and where all voices can be heard and appreciated.”

Held once a month, SCR features a 20-minute presentation from employee-only panelists representing diverse disciplines. After they share thoughts on themes or topics drawn from actual cases in which details identifying patients have been removed, a trained facilitator opens group discussion about the case and broader related issues.

“The premise is that caregivers are better able to make personal connections with patients and colleagues when they have greater insight into their own responses and feelings,” explains Rev. Simon.

Feedback from participants, he adds, includes the achievement of “greater self-understanding; emphasis on better communications with patients and among the team; sensitivity to patient needs; more awareness of the skills of other non-clinical team members; and better management of unrealistic patient expectations.”

“Schwartz Compassion Rounds participation has added to our culture of resilience,” says Rev. Simon.

Tips & Strategies

Rev. Simon discusses the importance of taking care of the caregiver, as well as the patient.

Do you have to be a doctor or nurse to experience compassion fatigue?

“No. Anyone who witnesses the constancy, volume and severity of a patient’s pain and suffering, like the sights, sounds and smells of sickness, can be impacted. This includes food service, environmental, transport staff and family caregivers.”

What are some signs of compassion fatigue?

“These can include chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, a non-caring attitude, irritability, difficulty sleeping, weight loss, headaches and poor job satisfaction.”

How can clinical caregivers prevent burnout?

“Strategies can include breathing exercises, meditation, audio books, walking for 15 minutes, changing clothes before leaving work and having an outside support

Featured Image: Rev. John Simon leads a WMCHealth team panel at a Schwartz Compassionate Rounds presentation.