Nursing Students Address Compassion Fatigue in End-of-Life Class

Nursing Students Address Compassion Fatigue in End-of-Life Class

By Lisa Hardy, Lecturer, School of Nursing

Senior Norwich Nursing students in NR 431 End-of-life Care participated in an assignment designed to address “compassion fatigue” in new nurses. While the course itself examined nursing care of patients with both chronic conditions and at end-of-life, Lecturer Lisa Hardy felt it was the perfect venue to address nursing self-care. Using a variety of pedagogical inspirations, she developed the original assignment of creating a “self-care toolbox.” The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Competencies and Recommendations for Preparing Undergraduate Nurses objective: “Implement self-care strategies to support coping with suffering, loss, moral distress and compassion fatigue” (AACN, 2016), in particular, informed the “tool-box” assignment.

Students chose to either write a paper or create an actual box which would help them in times of stress. Nursing research demonstrates that unaddressed stress in the profession may lead to compassion fatigue and burn-out, particularly in end-of-life nursing. More than half of the 35 students chose to create an actual box. They placed items representing an evidence-based intervention for stress in a box and attached a tag describing the evidence for that intervention.

Student Aliza McCarthy said: “For an assignment of creating boxes, it really made you think ‘outside the box.’ Nursing is always so patient-centered, you have a tendency to forget yourself in the equation. Making the Self-Care Toolbox allowed for moments of reflection that you might not normally have in school, and it incorporates a nursing student’s more creative side, which they can incorporate into future practice.”

The students researched and wrote about a wide-variety of ways to address stress, some of them specifically designed for nurses, including: meditation, yoga, prayer, vacation, healthy food choices, companionship, pet therapy, creating a stress-free zone, essential oils, massage, and exercise. One student even ended up getting a puppy after learning about the stress-reducing effects of pets!

Research demonstrates that compassion fatigue not only affects nurses but also causes them to leave their practice prematurely.

“I wanted to familiarize the students with the existence of compassion fatigue and to help them discover tools available to prevent it,” Hardy said.