Fighting Fatigue in Healthcare

Break Time by Born1945Blog post by Colin Hung

Next week is the unofficial start to summer here in North American – with Canada Day falling on July 1st and Independence Day on July 4th. These holidays represent the mid-point of the calendar year and is the first chance for many to take a break and get away from our daily pressures.

Given that the next #hcldr weekly tweetchat falls on Canada Day, Tuesday July 1st 2014, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about ways we can fight fatigue in healthcare and share the tactics we each use to boost our energy/take a break.

Work can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining. This is particularly true for those that work in healthcare who are often asked to put in long hours, are under tremendous pressure to perform and constantly deal with emotional situations. It is not surprising therefore that staff fatigue and burnout are common issues in healthcare organizations.

In his blog post “Physician Burnout – Who Will Save Us”, Dike Drummond says it succinctly on behalf of doctors:

“On average 1 in 3 physicians are suffering from symptomatic burnout on any give office day. New levels of work stress seem to pile on each week. You can feel the longing to be rescued. It is as if we are locked high in the castle tower, at the mercy of our evil captors – EMR, ICD-10 and Obamacare. Surely the king of everything that is right has dispatched a brave night to free us.”

…while Barbara Lombardo, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC and Caryl Eyre, RN, MSN say it best on behalf of nurses in their article:

A nursing occupational hazard of providing empathic, relationship-based care to patients and families is the development of compassion fatigue. The impact of compassion fatigue on nurses can be profound. It may cause stress-related symptoms and job dissatisfaction among caregivers and decreased productivity and job turnover within the healthcare system.

Fatigue manifests itself in many ways. Teresa L. Deschields lists many on her post “A hospital-wide approach to combating compassion fatigue”:

  • Feeling “not well”
  • Feeling “hyper”
  • Growing cynicism or pessimism
  • Increasing anger or irritability
  • Dread going to work

Personally I have seen coworkers suffering from fatigue (in a non-healthcare setting) and it took me a long time to work up the courage to approach them about it. I was afraid that my coworker would deny being fatigued and that my “accusation” would ruin our relationship. Thankfully in each case the person was self-aware enough to know that they were running on empty and we were able to talk about it openly. I suspect that others who have broached this subject with coworkers have not been as fortunate.

Being aware of fatigue is one thing. Combatting it is another. Peter Jaret has some interesting suggestions in his WebMD blog post:

  • Exercise
  • Get to bed early
  • Eat more fish

More pointed methods are offered by Dike Drummond:

  • Choose your rechargers, schedule them, do them and celebrate them
  • Cut your work hours back to minimum
  • Only chart what is necessary, stop worrying about complete sentences and punctuation
  • Take care of your needs first (remember the oxygen mask)

#HCLDR leader and community advocate Don S Dizon suggests that we can even use Twitter to help battle emotional fatigue:

In the modern era of social media, I have realized that another outlet has opened up—one that draws on the international experiences of oncologists, patients, and allied health professionals. It is on Twitter, on Facebook,, and ASCO Connection, among others. While we must be cautious in how we engage, it has become a source of strength for me, and a source of community.

– Don S Dizon MD

Join us Tuesday July 1st 2014 at 8:30pm Eastern Time (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr chat where we will be discussing:

  • T1: How would you approach/suggest to a fatigued colleague that they should take a break?
  • T2: What can healthcare organizations do to combat staff fatigue more effectively?
  • T3: How do you boost your energy? Share your tactics for recharging your internal battery.
  • CT: One thing you learned tonight that you can take back & use to help a patient or your organization tomorrow?


“Combating Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Cancer Care”, Linda Emanuel et al, Medscape, June 6 2011,, accessed June 27 2014

“Compassion Fatigue: A Nurse’s Primer”, Barbara Lombardo, Caryl Eyre, The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, January 2011,, accessed June 27 2014

“A Hospital-wide Approach to Combating Compassion Fatigue”, Teresa Deshields, Hospital Impact, February 8 2012,, accessed June 27 2014

“The Costs of Clinician Fatigue and Its Prevention”, David Gaba, Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation Newsletter, May 2005,, accessed June 27 2014

“Kronos Survey Reveals Nurse Fatigue is Pervasive in the Healthcare Industry and Directly Linked to On-the-Job Errors”, Kronos Incorporated, March 20 2013,, accessed June 27 2014

“9 Ways to Get Your Energy Back”, Peter Jaret, WebMD, April 1 2014,, accessed June 27 2014

“Compassion fatigue is an early warning sign of physician burnout”, Dike Drummond MD, KevinMD, May 28 2012,, accessed June 27 2014

“Physician Burnout – Who Will Save Us” Dike Drummond MD, The Happy MD, April 2014,, accessed June 27 2014

“How do we avoid initiative fatigue”, Peter Pronovost MD PhD, KevinMD, March 18 2014,, accessed June 27 2014

“Why physicians ignore fatigue”, Bob Wachter MD, KevinMD, December 15 2010,, accessed June 27 2014

“How doctors use Twitter to battle emotional fatigue” Don S Dizon MD, KevinMD, October 15 2012,, accessed June 27 2014

“The Role of Compulsiveness in the Normal Physician” Glen O Gabbard MD, The Journal of American Medical Association,, accessed June 27 2014

“Fight Mental Fatigue with a Walk” Ben Opipari, The Washington Post, May 27 2014,, accessed June 17 2014

Image Credit

“Break Time” by born1945

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