Does Burnout Subdue Empathy?

Does burnout subdue empathy
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

Provided by Scherezade Ozwulo


Originally posted on The Introverted Christian

   Ever since I could remember, I always had an affinity for older people. I, myself had an “old soul” and found it easy to relate to those not in my peer group. Older folks (seniors) told the best stories of childhood reminiscence and weaved real life morality tales that left ingrained webs that you never forgot days, or years later. Seniors weren’t just our grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, or neighbors but were sages passed down from a different generation of existing, expression and  enlightenment. Conversations with these pillars of prime always made me happy: jumpy with anticipation for a fond memory, excitement of a history lesson, or just a stern finger-wagging to a misunderstood generation (those made me laugh); they always have an opinion about something. We should be in delight around these cheerfully cantankerous individuals yet why is it that taking care of one, unlike some foreign nations, is such a chore in the US?

   The healthcare field is a booming mega-economic development that exists on perpetual need- who will fix us, if we’re broken? Hence, the driving force of wanting to help and heal those who are broken is overshadowed by the heavyweight that is stress. Time constraints, production based duties, providing prime customer service, adhering to the ever changing rules and regulations of the healthcare government is a lot on one’s plate when all you want to do is provide proper care.

What is burnout and it’s symptoms?

   Google describes it as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Imagine working 16 hour days over the  course of three days; let’s do the math: 16 hours times 3 days is 48 hours. You spent two whole days at work walking long halls, answering patients’ requests no matter how menial, short breaks (30 is not enough for 8 hours, an hour still isn’t enough for 16!), and/or abusive patients. Your body underwent physical exertion for two full cycles of the sun. Yes, you are providing care to those who can’t yet you’re denying self care. Yes, this will be your paycheck $$$$ (or depending on where you reside $$$) but at what cost?

   Many caretakers exhibit burnout because they may have money dangled in front of them. Not saying they don’t care about the patients, but the money is the motivator- the incentive which deprives proper sleep, causes worn out muscles in addition to early wear and tear on joints and other problems.

    Forbes magazine lists the symptoms of burnout  but in my opinion three stand out the most because I’ve seen it affect others but I’ve  experienced myself. Lack of motivation: it gets harder for you to get out of bed to go to this job. Frustation, cynicism, and negative emotions: getting angry at co-workers, voicing your anger about patients openly, and consistently feeling defeated, melancholic, angry, etc. Slipping job performance: halfway, partway, any way but all the way is your new work ethic. In my opinion, these three are the precursor to the other problems due to a bigger cause- understaffed facilities. Which also leads me to…

Compassion fatigue, what is it?

   If a facility is understaffed, what happens? You take in more patients, with more patients you take on more diverse personalities( some combative and belligerent), which leads to constant arguments for the simplest things like bathing, eating, and dressing. The patient is exhausted by confusion maybe?; you’re exhausted from the repetitive merry-go-round that you know is partly blurred lines of their disease and personality. Your taxed greatly.This leads to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is what it sounds like, exhaustion from providing care to long term patients which leads to feeling overwhelmed and/or numb to the needs of the patient. It’s when your empathy level is so beyond its point, you just go through the motions of providing care and not finding joy in it anymore. Here’s a link for more information:

   What are the statistics for burn out in the nursing field?

   “survey involving more than 3,000 private sector employee, including 93 nurses, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder found 7 in 10 respondents reported feeling burnout in their current roles. Still, despite high levels of emotional stress, nurses are largely satisfied with their jobs overall. Seventy-six percent of nurse respondents reporting job satisfaction and 33 percent reported dissatisfaction with their career progress.”

   So, in this case 70% of nurses felt burnout,  76% were still satisfied with their career choice, which is pretty good but these numbers don’t differentiate between the type of facility. Facility types (hospitals vs. long term care) play a huge part in the deciding factor if a person continues onward in nursing. In this next case, per Long Term Living Magazine there’s still high turnover when it comes to long term facilities “8.4% moved to other facilities, while 5.8% left healthcare altogether. The amount of those who left is still relatively small but, Why? Maybe because of the 8.4% who moved to another facility, they still held on to the hope that there are good facilities somewhere and their empathy level is still for proper care of one who can’t care for themselves. It’s these numbers we won’t see because empathy is hard to measure with numbers, anyway.

   So…what can be done to prevent burnout?

   For one to at least start (keyword start) to overcome burnout, one should invest in things that will enrich them spiritually, mentally, and physically. The INC online magazine lists these proactive concepts here.

Meditation & prayer


Reading and/or writing

Taking on less tasks and saying NO! (Many who are go getters struggle with this. They want to help or they’re control freaks and rather do it themselves; the flipside to this is again, understaffed facilities. If there’s not enough staff, then you can’t say no, can you?)

Classes: they can be career oriented or for fun. But the point is to keep your mind edified, so that you’re not ruminating on how much you dislike your job.

   It’s best to find an outlet for pain and frustration before it gets to the point where you don’t care.


   When I was in low level accounting after 8 years of repetitive number crunching, I knew that I hated sitting in that chair. Calculating, posting, printing, adding, subtracting; it was easy work but it was getting more and more boring daily. Every morning, I got up and found myself sitting on the edge of my bed praying for strength to get through my day, energy to do the work and deal with co-workers. Everything grinded my gears! This was an indicator I was burned out and needed a change. So, I made plans to return to healthcare(my story of why I left healthcare is for another time) my true love and here I am.

   The original question I asked myself to spark me to write this mixture piece of subjective  and objective data was “How much  compassion is forgone at the behest of fatigue in the allied health field of nursing assistants?”  If you’re just riding off numbers, the subjective, then not much. People are still staying in healthcare we assume because they love what they do, the live to help those who need it. But objectively, because I’m now a CNA who works in a long term facility, I see the burnout. Many of these men and women caretakers come to work (for not good pay, I might add) and “do their job”. I won’t judge them because I don’t know their struggle, but before it gets to the point where I just “do my job”, I will make sure to practice what I preach so I can maintain my bigger scope – empathy.

   But as I write this I question myself. Having just been employed in a long term care facility where there are rehabbers, hospice stays, or lonely seniors (some welcoming, others distant, others belligerent), I wonder how long can I do this job in this particular area? I love to heal and be involved in the care of one who can’t on their own, but maybe long term care in a facility isn’t my population? I’m more one on one and it’s hard to forge true relationships when I’m constantly worn out.

   Now, I already knew what I was getting into when I began working in long term care (my mother was a CNA in long term care for years). I’m not going to let my concerns  dictate my job performance of caretaker. Once you become numb, it takes a long time to get that feeling back. I don’t want to become numb but I understand how easy it is to get there. So, I sign off with this prayer:

   I pray Heavenly Father, by feeling the pain of others that it doesn’t weaken me. Keep me smiling for them, help me to be a listening ear.  But Father help me to know when to take care of myself so I can give to others. Amen

8 thoughts on “Does Burnout Subdue Empathy?

  1. Well said sir..i specially loved the prayer at end.
    To answer your question in one word…YES, burnout does indeed subdue empathy. I am a resident doctor and can tell from experience. When i start my duty hours after a good sleep, i speak very well with patients but as the long hrs paas i experience burnout as you termed it i start getting irritated with patients. I am not proud..i feel very bad and sometimes feel like i have lost empathy. My God help me!

    1. Thank you for the kind words!
      Good sleep is definitely needed. When you work three days straight of long shifts, you become a different person.(IK it’s harder for a doctor😥) I look forward to the day off to recoup mind, body, and spirit so I can give my best self.

  2. Thank you DM for posting my article. I hope it helps others who are going through this. Healthcare is such a daunting job but rewarding, but it takes special people to kick through the crap to see the yellow brick road.

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