Nurses have a well-documented history of experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout because of the demands of the profession. The problem may be more pronounced in oncology nurses, who may feel moral distress, grief, and loss related to futility of care or death of a long-term patient.

During an on-demand session for the inaugural ONS Bridge™ virtual conference, Susan Childress, MN, RN, former director of nursing at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, UT, and recipient of the 2020 Mara Mogensen Flaherty Memorial Lectureship, offered advice for oncology nurses in maintaining compassionate care and resiliency in practice.

Childress reflected on her career of more than 40 years and shared ideas for how other oncology nurses can prioritize self-care, be more resilient, and stay positive during stressful times.

How to Thrive

Childress explained the difference between compassion fatigue and burnout, acknowledging that both are a natural part of being an oncology nurse.

“So many times it starts with all the sad stories nurses face when working at a cancer center,” she said.

Childress offered the following tips for maintaining longevity in the oncology nursing profession:

  • Connect to purpose.
  • Have a goal.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a step back.

Evidence-Based Practices to Maintain Resiliency

Childress was one of the key developers of HCI’s Compassionate Workplace program, which supports employees with education and evidence-based services and has been shown to decrease the negative aspects of their difficult work.

She said that evidence-based practices for staying resilient include:

During times chronic stress, nurses can stay positive by doing the following:

  • Share the grief with your support network.
  • Debrief after the event.

Conflict in the Workplace

Childress recommended addressing difficult conversations with respect and dignity. She said it is crucial we have difficult conversations with supervisors or coworkers when necessary to prevent bottling up emotions. Some advice includes addressing conflict in private, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, and finding strength in numbers. If another coworker was affected, have them join you in approaching the conversation.

“It’s not easy, but you have to be brave,” she said.

For 13 years Childress was director of nursing at HCI. Each morning, on the walk from her car to her office, she reminded herself how lucky she was to have the job she did.

“As you walk into work tomorrow, think about the good things,” she left listeners by saying. “No place is perfect, but there are a lot of people and resources to help you.”