By Victoria L. Reiser, BSN, RN, BMTCN
When I received an offer for a position on the stem cell transplant unit at UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh, PA, I had no question about whether to accept it. It was, and still is, my dream nursing job. I started in August 2015 and have since grown as a healthcare professional and as a person. This setting is challenging physically, mentally, and psychologically. My undergraduate education prepared me well for the technical aspects of nursing, but I had little training in managing the emotions that would come with this job.
About a month after orientation, when I was working independently, I quickly felt drained. I would wake up multiple times each night thinking of my patients. I developed bad habits like binge eating, over-exercising, and texting my coworkers to check on patients when I wasn’t at work. My boyfriend had to listen to me cry more times than I would like to admit. When I expressed my struggles to my friends and coworkers, I discovered that I was not the only one battling stress and exhaustion. Many other younger nurses found their passion for nursing turning into compassion fatigue and burnout.
Overcoming Compassion Fatigue in Practice
All nurses are at risk for compassion fatigue, especially those working in oncology. A 2010 study by Potter et al. found that 37% of inpatient and 35% of outpatient oncology nurses are at high risk for burnout due to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue also contributes to high turnover rates. Research shows that informal and formal mentorship programs successfully reduce turnover and increase nursing satisfaction through the reduction of stress and compassion fatigue. Skill competency, patient satisfaction, and professional growth improvements are other benefits of mentoring.
As part of my bachelor’s degree, I earned a minor in leadership studies and implemented a mentoring program at my university for the nursing students. When I read about the positive effects of mentoring for nurses, it was clear that creating a program specific to the bone marrow transplant setting would help my coworkers deal with growing compassion fatigue and burnout. I’d been informally mentoring several students and recent graduates, and I realized that all nurses should have this opportunity as well.
With the support of the quality improvement department and our evidence-based practice council, the Mentorship Program to Increase Retention and Satisfaction became a reality. Seven senior nurses volunteered to be mentors and received formal education on the mentoring relationship. Each one partners with a nurse after the orientation period to work on personal goal setting, professional development, and specialty-specific nursing practice topics each month.
The nurse mentors also provide emotional and psychological support during high-stress situations at work and at home. The program started in May 2017 and has garnered positive feedback from all mentoring pairs. Some are creating plans to return to school, others are developing roles as charge nurse, and others are discussing work-life balance.
A nurse from another unit recently asked me to visit her unit and present the program to her director. It’s evident that burnout is high throughout different fields of nursing, and it is an issue that should be addressed. With high hopes, I am eager for the mentoring program to spread and provide the support that all nurses deserve.