Creative Arts Help Nurses Overcome Burnout

Jun 19, 2013, 12:00 PM

Nurses are at particularly high risk for burnout or “compassion fatigue,” which can leave them feeling overwhelmed and worn out. They “provide direct, 24/7 care, and they often must confront the limits of what medicine can do for people,” Cynda Hylton Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN, an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows program and a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, tells the Washington Post. “Nurses can begin to feel helpless or have a sense that they are not actually helping.”

And when the clinician suffers, so does the patient, she adds. “We don’t provide the quality care we want to offer when we ourselves are depleted.”

Hospitals and organizations around Washington, D.C., are taking note, and are finding ways to help nurses relax and re-energize through the creative arts, the Post reports.

At the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in the District, nurses participate in an arts and humanities program that uses activities like journal writing, dance and movement, quilting, painting, and ceramics to help nurses manage stress and come to terms with their experiences. At Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, nurses are learning how to knit. And at Gilchrist Hospice Care, outside of Baltimore, nurses are meditating.

“The positive energy transcends to patient care,” Laurie Dohnalek, who directs oncology and medicine services for the nursing service at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in D.C., tells the Post. “No matter what you do or how you do it, art is an opportunity to express yourself and work through things you might not be able to work through in other dimensions. As nurses, our priority is to be the best we can be for ourselves and for our patients, and this is a positive way to do that.”

What do you think? What other ways can hospitals help nurses avoid or overcome burnout? Register below to leave a comment.

Read the Washington Post story.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.