Are Doctors Suffering From Compassion Fatigue?

Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LMSW

Disclosures

December 23, 2013

In This Article

Restocking Your Emotional Bank Account

Reversing the negative cycle isn't easy. But there are some things you can do immediately to help you regain a sense of purpose and balance. Some suggestions for self-care include:

Reducing your work hours;

Engaging in relaxing, fun, and rejuvenating activities;

Exercising and eating well;

Nourishing your relationships by spending time with family and friends;

Reclaiming your spirituality by remembering the value of caring for others; and

Practicing mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, meditation, or other techniques that promote relaxation and spiritual growth.

Healthcare management consultant Rosenstein acknowledges that reorganizing priorities to include self-care will require creativity and determination on the part of the physician. But the effort "will lead to greater job satisfaction and will ameliorate tiredness, anxiety, and depression."

Don't Try To Handle Things Alone

Truth be told, doctors are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to rehabbing their ability to connect with patients. "A major barrier to addressing compassion fatigue is the feeling so many physicians have that they 'should' be able to grit their teeth, toughen their skin, and handle their stresses alone," says Dr. Rosenstein.

Complicating things is the fact that many physicians are in a state of denial about the extent of the problem. "They feel they can self-correct," Dr. Rosenstein says. Or, as Dr. Levin adds: "Some physicians are afraid they may be castigated for not being strong enough."

But experts emphatically agree that reaching out to others for support and help is essential. They recommend:

Talking informally to friends and other physicians;

Consulting your organization's physician employee assistance program -- if none is available, consider contacting a professional peer-to-peer physician organization;

Attending workshops or seminars that deal specifically with issues of burnout or compassion fatigue;

Joining in a "virtual" support group or seminar; and

Seeking professional coaching or counseling.

Remember, even if you're happy in your practice and not at the point where potential burnout is an issue, you might know a colleague in need of help. The list of resources found at the end of this article is a good place for them to start.

Conclusion

Dr. Levin quotes the Dalai Lama, who called compassion "the radicalism of our time." Taking the "radical" step of retaining compassion in the face of patient suffering and an increasingly inhospitable healthcare system will allow compassion to remain at the center of optimal patient care.

Resources

International Critical Incident Stress Foundation

International Association of Trauma Professionals

Stanford School of Medicine, Well MD

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation

Physician Wellness Services

The Happy MD

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