Compassion Fatigue, Physician Burnout and Your Emotional Bank Account

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

compassion fatigue physician burnout opt 150x150Compassion Fatigue, Physician Burnout and Your Emotional Bank Account

For anyone in the helping professions, Compassion Fatigue is a common occurrence. 

Here is the origin of compassion fatigue, its relationship to physician burnout and what you can do when you recognize it in yourself.

Compassion fatigue is when you find yourself challenged to care about your patients in the way you know is proper and expected in your position. Doctors, nurses, therapists, law enforcement, social workers, military … the list goes on. All these professions rely on some degree of Empathy and Compassion to function at maximum effectiveness.

Cynicism, Sarcasm and feeling Put Upon

If you find yourself being cynical or sarcastic about your patients you have compassion fatigue. It can come in the little voice in your head, or mumbling under your breath or “Venting” to your colleagues or staff.

If you find yourself feeling like your patients / staff / institution are deliberately trying to wear you out or drive you crazy – you have compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue … Your Emotional Bank Account is Empty

Being a doctor or other helping professional is the perfect compassion fatigue formula. Caring for others with difficult, often chronic illnesses is a draining emotional experience. Think of yourself as having an Emotional Bank Account. You simply can’t get to the end of an office day with the same amount of emotional energy in your account as when you started. Your job is draining … even on a good day.

It is up to you to Recharge Your Emotional Bank Account on your own time. That’s where the double whammy hits.

At the same time your job is draining, you have been trained and conditioned that Your Needs Come Last.

For many of the doctors I work with … they find it very difficult to know how they might recharge themselves. Their needs have not been on their radar for years, even decades.

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airplaneoxygenmask optIt’s like the Oxygen Masks on an Airplane – You have to Put Your Mask on First

The key to avoiding compassion fatigue is taking care of your own emotional needs first. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t get water from a stone. If your emotional needs are not being met, you can’t be there emotionally for your patients when they  need you the most. And no one teaches you how to get your own emotional needs met in medical school or residency. It’s every doctor for themselves.

Here’s The Unspoken Tragedy

If you can’t be emotionally present for your patients because of compassion fatigue … you can’t be there for your spouse, significant other, children or friends. Everyone loses when you allow yourself to be tapped out at work. And this is just the start of a slippery slope.

Compassion Fatigue is a Warning Sign of Physician Burnout

Compassion Fatigue is one of the three signs of Physician Burnout along with physical exhaustion and a sense that your work doesn’t make any real difference.

When You Notice Compassion Fatigue – It’s a Call To Action

Compassion fatigue is a sign you are not getting Your Needs Met. Your emotional bank account is tapped out. There’s nothing left. You are running on empty and cynicism and sarcasm are simply defense mechanisms when your back is against the wall.

Time for some Exquisite Self Care

I imagine you have not taken enough time for yourself or the most important people in your life lately. Your emotional bank account may be even worse than empty … you may be overdrawn and in a major negative balance. Here’s are a few keys to address this urgently.

Do a great job with every patient you see and

  • Cut your work hours back to minimum

  • Only chart what is necessary … stop worrying about complete sentences and punctuation

  • Strongly consider some time off

  • Take care of Your Needs First (remember the oxygen mask… )

    • Get some Rest

    • Get some Exercise

    • Do something fun you have put off in a while

  • Spend some quality time with your significant other and children

Make Recharging a Part of Your Normal Life

Know that in the future these non-work activities are key to keeping your emotional bank account full and to you being the best you can be … so schedule these recharging activities into your life every month from now on. That means choose your rechargers, schedule them, do them and celebrate them. Don’t skip or scrimp because these things don’t feel as important as taking care of other people’s needs. That’s just your training and conditioning talking … it’s what got you to this point of compassion fatigue in the first place.

Remember the oxygen mask and get your needs taken care of first.

Here is the Wikipedia Compassion Fatigue Page for even more information

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT about what your favorite compassion fatigue beater of a recharge activity is … and when you will do it next.

Tags: Physician Burnout, EMR