Nurses must balance compassion and detachment
“We as nurses care for patients and their families at their most vulnerable times, including time of death. This can be emotionally draining,” says Antoinette Dziedzic, a former neonatal intensive care nurse who now serves as campus chair of the nursing program at the University of Phoenix Town Center Learning Center in Detroit.
Many nurses and other health care professionals struggle to provide supportive, empathetic care while still performing their medical duties, according to Dziedzic. “Nurses need to be aware of both the personal and professional self in order to maintain emotional objectivity,” she explains.
However, showing compassion for patients without getting personally involved in their lives can be very difficult, particularly with patients your own age or the ages of your children, adds Glenda Tali, an experienced nurse practitioner and campus chair of Nursing at the University of Phoenix Hawaii Campus.
Tali can cite several examples of times when she or her nursing colleagues crossed boundaries while caring for patients, both by becoming too attached or by judging them. She remembers an incident in which she became angry after caring for a woman who was in labor while under the influence of cocaine.
“I found it difficult to maintain my compassion,” Tali says. “A wise older nurse took me aside and told me it was time for a break.”
Knowing when to take a step back requires strong self-awareness. Dziedzic says she finds leading a healthy lifestyle helps support this mindset. “Keeping a holistic approach to life is an effective strategy to find balance in mind, body and spirit,” she explains. “To combat all the negative emotional energy that comes from stress, it’s important for nurses to replenish themselves so they can keep caring for others.”
Dziedzic offers several suggestions on how professional caregivers can accomplish this, including keeping a personal journal, engaging in social activities like parties or book clubs, joining a support group, taking up a hobby, and improving diet and exercise. “All the things we tell our patients to do in stressful situations, we need to apply to ourselves, too,” she says.
“We must learn to refresh our bodies and spirits to continue providing loving and compassionate care for others,” Tali adds. “Otherwise, it’s like driving a car with an empty gas tank. It won’t go very far.”