Researcher takes on ‘empathy fatigue’ in the workplace

A nurse refuses to help an ailing alcoholic who is upset to find a hospital detox unit closed. A hospital clerk brushes off a deceased woman’s grieving family as they try to pay her bills and claim her belongings. A charge nurse keeps the mother of gunshot victim from seeing her son, saying the emergency room is “too busy.”

 

These harsh, real-life scenarios helped inspire Eve Ekman, a doctoral student in social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, to study empathy burnout in the workplace, a condition expected to skyrocket this year due to the stress caused by the nation’s financial crisis….

 

Ekman hypothesizes that clinical empathy, instead of emotional distancing, can help alleviate job burnout and energize caregivers to act with compassion. Instead of being discouraged at claims of growing ‘compassion fatigue,’ which refers to the emotional numbing that caregivers can experience, she has found herself heartened by how many continue to demonstrate compassion in their jobs despite the daily suffering they encounter.