Compassion Fatigue in Cancer Care Poorly Understood

Compassion fatigue can adversely affect individual health care providers and the workplace, study finds
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- Compassion fatigue is a familiar problem for cancer care professionals, yet compassion fatigue is vaguely defined, its effects are not clearly understood and its management is inadequately addressed, researchers report in the March issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.

Nadine Najjar, of the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, and colleagues reviewed literature on compassion fatigue. Fifty-seven studies were initially reviewed, with the list narrowed to 14 relevant articles.

The researchers found that compassion fatigue was ambiguously defined and was not adequately differentiated from related concepts, such as job burnout and secondary traumatic stress. The articles covered a wide variety of compassion fatigue situations, including hospice care, genetic counseling, terrorism, sexual assault and trauma, but there were few studies specific to health care providers serving a cancer population. One study found the five most common compassion fatigue issues were: the stress of breaking bad news, addressing pain and suffering, managing a difficult patient, end-of-life care, and family and cultural issues.

"It follows that compassion fatigue takes a toll, not only on the health care provider, but also on the workplace, causing decreased productivity, more sick days and higher turnover. It is vital that health care administrators work toward cultivating a clearer understanding of the link between the empathic sensitivity of the health care profession and the vulnerability to compassion fatigue," the authors write.

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