A career of more than 40 years provides experiences and insight that can help nurses prioritize self-care, be more resilient, and stay positive during stressful times. During an on-demand session for the inaugural ONS BridgeTM virtual conference in October 2020, 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.

What the Research Says

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.

“So many times, it starts with all the sad stories nurses face when working at a cancer center,” Childress said. She offered tips for reconnecting to and maintaining longevity in the oncology nursing profession:

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

How to Practice

Childress was one of the creators 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:

  • Exercising
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Recognizing daily gratitude
  • Journaling
  • Practicing kindness

During times of chronic stress, nurses can promote positivity by:

  • Sharing the grief with your support network.
  • Debriefing after an event.

Childress recommended addressing difficult conversations with respect and dignity. Although they’re difficult, conversations with supervisors or coworkers are crucial to prevent bottling up emotions, and some techniques make them a little easier, such as 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 said. “No place is perfect, but there are a lot of people and resources to help you.”