For better patient care, prevent nurse burnout

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“Compassion practices” can have a positive effect on nurses’ work and well-being, a new study suggests.

The phrase refers to relatively conventional organizational practices that reward and recognize caregiving work and include job-related resources to cope with stress and provide pastoral care.

“We know there is a burnout epidemic among nurses.”

Nursing is among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations in the United States, but the number of nurses exiting the profession currently outpaces the number of those entering. And the turnover rate is getting even higher.

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation recently reported that nearly 20 percent of nurses leave the profession during their first year and one in three is gone within two years.

“We know there is a burnout epidemic among nurses,” says Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.

“The stress of caring for patients, the demands from patient families and from physicians—these are likely contributing to a growing nursing shortage in the United States, leaving us with fewer trained caregivers at a time when, increasingly, we’ll need more,” Gabriel says.

In an attempt to evaluate how compassion practices influenced nurses’ reports of well-being, researchers studied 177 nurses in 30 ambulatory clinics in a Southeastern hospital.

They found that in clinics where compassion practices were the norm, nurses self-reported less emotional exhaustion (feelings of fatigue and stress and of being overextended) and more psychological vitality (feelings of alertness, vigor, and energy).

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The researchers also found that in clinics with higher levels of compassion practices, patients reported better interactions with nurses and gave higher evaluations of their patient care experience. The results show that compassion practices improve nurses’ well-being and are good for patients, too.

“The advantages of instituting and encouraging compassion practices can be significant,” Gabriel says. “They are low-cost, budget-conscious tactics. They help produce happier nurses, and they result in patients having a better care experience in the clinics.

“Given the positive association with patient experience ratings, our study demonstrates the business case for compassion practices. Health care administrators should consider the use of these practices as a tool to improve nurse well-being and to achieve higher patient ratings.”

Coauthors from Virginia Commonwealth University contributed to the study, which appears in Medical Care.

Source: Amy Schmitz for University of Arizona