Nurses can suffer themselves from being required to display compassion at all times, according to UK researchers.
Nurses who were required to display higher levels of compassion were more likely to feel emotionally exhausted, a study by the University of Bedfordshire found.
In addition, nurses who had higher levels of empathy felt emotionally exhausted too, the authors said.
The findings are based on a sample of 351 nurses who completed a serious of online questionnaires about their lives in work and beyond.
Study author Professor Gail Kinman said: “Displaying compassion and empathy is a fundamental requirement in nursing and is valued by patients and their families. However, this ‘emotional labour’ can affect their wellbeing.
“Our research found some support for the idea that emotional support can help break this relationship,” she warned.
“Further research is needed to develop interventions that will help nurses learn to deliver compassionate, patient-centred care while maintaining the emotional boundaries that will protect their own wellbeing,” she added.
The new findings chime with previous research reported by Nursing Times. Researchers at Leicester University’s school of psychology warned in 2009 that nurses run the risk of developing mental health problems if they empathised too much with patients.
The authors said nurses may develop flashbacks, sleeping difficulties, emotional detachment and other symptoms associated with distress and trauma.
The last few years have seen compassion become a political buzzword in the wake of the high profile care failings like those at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and cases such as that of convicted murderer Colin Norris.
It has led to aptitude tests being introduced by many universities and employers to try and measure the values and compassion levels of prospective students and recruits.
Health Education England is also in the process of piloting the idea that those planning to do a nursing degree should complete up to a year working as a healthcare assistant prior to starting their course – a move championed by the government.
However, the topic of compassion remains a controversial one within nursing itself, with some arguing that nurses are unfairly being singled out compared to other groups of frontline health professionals.
Earlier this week the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of hospitals told the Independent newspaper that compassion in the NHS was “alive and well”.
Professor Sir Mike Richards insisted outstanding care was possible within the NHS after completing his first wave of hospital inspections.
The Bedfordshire research was due to be presented today at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s division of occupational psychology in Brighton.
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