NEW ORLEANS—Compassion fatigue and burnout are prevalent among nurses, and resiliency training and learning coping strategies are essential parts of nursing knowledge, according to research presented at Oncology Nursing Society 37th Annual Congress.

The literature shows oncology nurses experience have one of the highest incidence rates of compassion fatigue and burnout, and a 2008 climate survey at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) revealed an incidence of burnout and compassion fatigue in nurses on the gastrointestinal service that was comparable to that of their colleagues on the oncology service. These statistics prompted an interdisciplinary work group to develop a lecture series on coping mechanisms and self-care for nurses at the facility.

Compassion fatigue and burnout are similar, but they have different qualities. A presentation by Diana Tam, RN, and Elizabeth Cruz, RN, OCN®, both in Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, New York, explained burnout as a reaction to the work environment, and compassion fatigue as a response to the clinical work and nurses’ reaction to it.

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An interdisciplinary work group at MSKCC developed an educational lecture series to address the need to maximize resiliency among the nursing staff. The presentation by Tam and Cruz said, “resilience looks at what causes people to grow and expands their focus.” The informative sessions provided nurses with instruction on building resiliency and other self-care techniques. Their survey identified environmental stressors; dealing with complicated patient scenarios and bereavement; therapeutic communication and coping mechanisms for health care professionals; and discussions about death and dying as the most relevant topics. The lectures were offered twice a week over a 6-month period.

Postlecture evaluations indicated an overall positive response from program participants. Most respondents rated the sessions as valuable and having had an impact on their practice. The program’s resiliency-building initiative continues as new topics and needs are identified.