Working as a primary caregiver can often be a very thankless and stressful job. In episode 281, I received a question from a listener who works as a patient safety assistance in a hospital and often finds themselves under increasing amounts of stress, struggling from burnout and compassion fatigue. In this post, I validate these feelings and dive into an array of options to help you recharge and keep a more balanced life.
I work in a hospital as a patient safety assistant. We are frequently looked down upon as being “just sitters”, but there are days when it can be a difficult job both physically and mentally. In my hospital, my coworkers and I sit with patients for a broad variety of reasons – fall risk, Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental or emotional disturbances that could cause behavior that could be dangerous to patients or others, suicidal or homicidal ideation, drug and alcohol detox patients, and patients with other conditions which could cause confusion, delirium, hallucinations, etc. Our patients are frequently aggressive, violent, and act out physically and verbally toward us as their primary targets in the room who are enforcing restrictions upon them. It’s a weekly occurrence to be hit, kicked, bit, and spit upon just for trying to keep the patient from pulling out catheters and IVs or telling them that they cannot get up without more assistance. It has been suggested that burnout and compassion fatigue are things that affect people who work with patients who are at high risk of dying, such as in ER’s, ICU’s, hospices, and nursing homes.
My position in the hospital has a very high employee turnover rate. I have been suffering with what is generally listed as symptoms of burnout and of compassion fatigue. My question is, whether it is likely for a person in my position to indeed suffer from these conditions, and how might I address it and train new people in this job to recognize, minimize, and cope with it. Most people believe that we simply sit in a patient’s room all day and read or do word puzzles while they sleep, and this is often how the job is explained to new employees. However, that is usually the case with our best patients, on our best days, when their order for a PSA is about to be canceled as no longer needed. We are given little information on these issues since we are not nurses or techs in areas of higher patient mortality, but are people of various stages of life, from students to retirees, required only to be high school graduates, 18 or over, and drug and tobacco-free. I am looking for advice on where to find the best resources to help myself and others in this situation. If this is not a situation that can experience burnout and compassion fatigue, what would have similar characteristics and how do I help myself and others to recognize and cope with it.
Thank you for doing what you do. It’s often a very thankless job. I know what it’s like to work with people that have significant cognitive or emotional disturbances. It’s not easy and this is a burden that is offloaded from families often and for good reason. You abso-f**king-lutely can have burnout and compassion fatigue here. We rely on reward – there isn’t a lot of it. There is moral satisfaction, there is the pride in your skill, etc. but you aren’t often being really rewarded for your efforts. So it’s a drain that takes a lot out of you and then you can sometimes pay the price for that.
When it comes to what to do about it, there are definitely some things to think about. For one, please be cognizant of what your job should actually entail – there is a bad habit of institutions being able to get away with anything and putting way too much on people that aren’t trained or qualified to handle it. But these are people’s lives that you are dealing with so you aren’t just going to say no. Therefore, you may need to be aware of what is and is not appropriate and if necessary assert some boundaries within your workplace and role.
You may also want to talk to a therapist, there’s a fine line between burnout and depression – treatment can be helpful. Furthermore, sometimes it helps to look at the bigger picture. What else are you doing in your life? If you are resolving to keep the job and can’t take anything away from it, what can you add? The basics are super important – sleep, exercise, diet, etc. – are you taking care of yourself? If you don’t have time to, this might not be the right job. You can also reinforce and focus on what you do well and your values – what aspects of yourself and life do you value and what can you do to help enforce and uphold these.
Finding support groups to help can also provide a big release, as well as going out with friends in the field. This can provide an opportunity to complain about the job without the need to explain and also reiterates that you’re not alone in your work. It will also make a difference if you can find causes, activities, or things to do that are completely unrelated to your work, giving you opportunities to switch off from work and recharge.
It’s also important to take time off if you need it, and ultimately if your work continues to have such a negative impact then the question arises as to whether it’s time to find a new job. This could be finding a similar job in a new company that gives you the support you need, or something entirely new!
When it comes to training others, I think that advocating for yourself, having boundaries, and recognizing what is within and outside of your job parts are important. Also letting them know the same things, that their health is more at risk due to the nature of the job and they should be proactive about taking care of themselves. Encourage people to not struggle in silence and let others know what’s going on so nobody flies under the radar. Just creating a culture where it is understood and talked about is so important. If you find a podcast episode or a blog post that’s relevant, share it or print it out and put it up in the break room. That sort of thing! Do what you can to create a healthy workspace and support network for everyone involved.
You can listen to this on Episode 281 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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