Web site spotlight: The emotional cost of nursing

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, July 10, 2009

Nurses cure the sick, heal the wounded, and comfort the dying, but are they doing so at their own cost?

Jenny Watts, researcher and psychology PhD student at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England, aims to find out with a new project examining the emotional toll of nursing. The project, which follows a large scale methodical review of published literature Watts conducted last year, will explore how exposure to patient suffering and empathy for patients' situations may influence nurses' experiences of distress.

"The [previous] review revealed certain nurse characteristics may predict a specific form of distress," says Watts. "There appear to be many moderating variables, but the literature suggested more empathetic nurses showed greater vulnerability to what had been labeled as burnout and secondary traumatic stress."

Watts' findings indicate nurses who empathize and identify with their patients can share patients' emotional reactions. thus, nurses with highly distressed patients can develop similar symptoms. In addition, dealing with patients' concerns can lead to draining of emotional resources.

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