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Fight Compassion Fatigue...With MORE Compassion?


Burnout in human medicine is at epidemic levels. Some research suggests doctor burnout rates as high as 44%! While I’m not aware of similar research in veterinary medicine I suspect veterinary professionals burnout at similar rates to their human counterparts.


Burnout is a key contributor to the syndrome psychologists call, Compassion Fatigue. So, I was surprised to learn that practicing compassion can actually be a potent antidote to the experience of occupational burnout!


I’ve just finished reading, “Compassionomics,” a new research-based book by two human physician researchers, Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli. This isn’t meant to be a book review so I’ll be brief – these two researchers conducted an extensive and rigorous two-year-long systematic review of all the studies involving compassion and the practice of medicine. What they found was incredible.


Compassion matters. In huge ways. It improves patient outcomes, reduces the cost of care, and, improves the psychological well-being of the caregiver.


That last point, as laid out throughout the book and within the chapter titled, “Compassion as an Antidote to Burnout,” really struck me. Could intentional acts of compassion actually reduce the incidence of compassion fatigue?


It appears it can.


Time and again the research shows, when a caregiver expresses compassion, it not only benefits the receiver, but the giver enjoys a boost in positive emotion psychological resilience resources.


In fact, a systematic review of the literature shows an INVERSE relationship between compassion and burnout. That is, the healthcare professionals expressing the most compassion to their patients, displayed the lowest rates of burnout. That’s right – the more compassion the caregiver offered, the less likely they were to experience burnout.


Compassion appears to convey a protective benefit. That shouldn’t really surprise us.

Research has shown acting with compassion boosts moods, reduces depression, buffers anxiety, and causes the release of “happiness” chemicals in the body.


In healthcare workers, those who practice the most compassion have the lowest burnout rates, lower depression rates, an elevated sense of personal accomplishment, and an overall higher sense of quality of life. That’s PERMA in action, folks!


And the cool thing is, it isn’t that difficult or time consuming to add this to our practice. Research suggests it only takes, on average, about 40 seconds to offer compassion to a client and enjoy all its benefits.

How? Here’s how one study did it.


Oncologists were trained to share the following script with each patient at the beginning of a consult:


I know this is a tough experience to go through and I want you to know that I am here with you. Some of the things that I say to you today may be difficult to understand, so I want you to feel comfortable in stopping me if something I say is confusing or doesn’t make sense. We are here together, and we will go through this together.”


A few seconds of compassion, a lifetime of caregiving satisfaction.


The above is one of myriad ways to act with compassion. How will you find 40 seconds of compassion for your clients today?


- Written by Josh Vaisman

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