Compassion Fatigue: How To Recognize and Fight It as a Travel Nurse
Compassion is a prerequisite for healthcare. Every day is spent serving the needs of others. For travel nurses, compassion is an integral part of accepting a position in an area of need — where there’s not enough help to go around. But what happens when frustration supplants compassion? How can you continue to deliver high-level care when your compassion is on the fritz?
First, recognize you’re not alone. Many travel nurses struggle with this at some point in their career. It’s called compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is a recognized diagnosis
It’s easy to confuse compassion fatigue with more pessimistic terms, such as apathy or burnout, but compassion fatigue goes beyond feelings of weariness.
Travel nurses experience compassion fatigue when they give so much of themselves that there’s nothing left to give. You’re not just running on empty — you’re offering up care at a detriment to yourself. It’s a well-documented condition for nurses, social workers, shelter staff, and others front lines administrators of compassionate care.
Compassion fatigue is the result of long hours, lack of resources, an absent or limited support system, and instability — all variables most travel nurses encounter with each new assignment. And, of course, an ongoing pandemic only exacerbates the problem.
Recognizing compassion fatigue
It’s hard to find nursing professionals who aren’t dead on their feet these days. But when does physical exhaustion from long hours and hard shifts cross over into compassion fatigue? Signs of this condition mirror burnout and depression but can occur more severely and come on suddenly.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), travel nurses should be on the lookout for these telltale symptoms:
- Depression and negative self-talk.
- Intrusive thoughts and lack of empathy.
- Feelings of being on-edge or trapped.
- Inability to separate work from personal life.
- Disappearance of pride in work or accomplishment.
The simplest way to identify compassion fatigue is to recognize when you feel like the work you do each day doesn’t help anyone. Travel nurses who disassociate the care they provide from the wellness of their patients begin to feel helpless: a clear indicator of compassion fatigue.
What can you do to restore your compassion?
If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, don’t worry. You’re not alone. A lot of healthcare workers experience this condition at some point during their career — and even more during the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is there are ways to restore your compassion. You just need to rediscover perspective and engage in healthy habits to rejuvenate your own wellbeing.
Here are a few recommended steps for combatting compassion fatigue and restoring empathy to your everyday interactions:
- Talk with a therapist or psychologist to unburden yourself.
- Practice positive self-talk, including reassurance that your work matters.
- Get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy, and exercise to boost your mood.
- Find hobbies and activities outside of medicine that bring you enjoyment.
- Identify what’s important to you and prioritize your wellbeing.
For many travel nurses, extending time off between assignments is an effective way to rejuvenate. Often, a vacation is exactly what you need to recharge your batteries.
Compassion is a critical ingredient for travel nurses. If you find it slipping away from you, make sure you’re taking the time to assess and address compassion fatigue in a healthy way. Remember, to care for others, you need to care for yourself..