'Hang in there.' Nursing professor says pandemic could cause health care workers compassion fatigue

Posted at 6:41 AM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 07:48:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Health care workers around the United States are treating COVID-19 for the sixth month straight.

Dr. Chelsia Harris, the executive director of Lipscomb University's School of Nursing, teaches about the side effects of prolonged exposure to difficult situations.

"There is a devoted time that we spend on compassion fatigue and burnout," Harris said. "A lot of times we tell ourselves that couldn't happen to me, or I could never become fatigued of my compassion, that's why I do what I do, or that's how I got into this."

Harris explained it is fairly common for hospital workers to experience a form of compassion fatigue. She defines it as the physical, emotional and spiritual result of chronic self-sacrifice or elongated exposure to tough situations that result in a person being unable to love, nurture, care for or empathize with another person's suffering.

"It's when you give and give of yourself until hypothetically there is nothing left to give," she said.

Harris said treating COVID-19 every day could be leading some health care workers to feel numb.

"A lot of these health care providers are working tirelessly to help to be a part of the healing process. There have been a lot of failed attempts or tragedies [that] they have experienced," she said.

Harris recommends nursing students look for signs they or their colleagues are losing empathy for patients.

"Maybe they start having abdominal pain, headaches or are calling into work when they typically wouldn't do that. Maybe they're just blue or down," she said.

She encourages front-line workers to speak up if they're feeling disconnected.

"Hang in there, and find someone that you trust and confide in [them] because likely they're feeling the same way or something extraordinarily similar," she said.

Harris is the author of Created and Called: A Journey to and through Nursing in which she dedicates an entire chapter to compassion fatigue.