I came across two articles on resilience that made me ponder this construct.1, 2 Both were written by colleagues from Australia and both speak to using this coping skill when the nature of work is emotionally demanding. What better specialty to consider this discourse than oncology nursing?
Resilience has been described as the ability to rebound from adversity and overcome difficult circumstances in one's life.1 Those who display resilience appear to possess a set of common characteristics that enable them to effectively cope with life's hardships. Denz-Penhey & Murdoch2 delineated five dimensions in resilient individuals.
Several of these struck home with me. They included having a sense of connectedness to family, experiencing a sense of inner wisdom, and possessing a personal psychology. These all exemplified a positive mindset that supports the individual's values. It was also noted that resilience is contextual and dynamic and that resilience may not be displayed in every aspect of life.
So as I ponder one of the hazards of our chosen field, namely compassion fatigue, I wonder how resilience impacts this construct. How does resilience influence our inner strength, job-related stress, and overall sense of wellness? Is resilience a skill one can learn or is it a coping strategy one assimilates and models from parents or other family members? Could the development of enhanced resilience within our coping toolbox be the antidote for the emotional drain of our work?
When I look at those colleagues who continue to practice in the absence of compassion fatigue, it is not that they don't care anymore or lack empathy with their patients and families. It is the contrary. They seem able to persevere, know they make a difference, continue to give of themselves, and experience the passion of their work.
Zander, Hutton, and King3 described a small sample of pediatric oncology nurses' resilience as it related to both their personal and professional lives. They cited the importance of reflective practice, insight, and the support of family and friends to mediate the interpersonally related nature of occupational stress. Of note was the authors' mention that while these nurses developed resilience of their own accord, organizational support was crucial to its further development and maintenance.
Police, firefighters, mental health professionals, child protective service workers, and the military all have access to support resources when the burden of what they witness becomes overwhelming. Our exposure to tragedy, often on a daily basis, makes us a vulnerable population of "first responders" as well.
Resilience is a skill that can be learned in the face of adversity. Asking for help in this regard does not admit weakness. Rather, it reflects humanness and a desire to sustain one's caring self in a demanding profession.
- McAllister M & McKinnon J (2009). The importance of teaching and learning resilience in the health disciplines: A critical review of the literature. Nurse Education Today, 29, 371-379.
- Denz-Penhey H. & Murdoch C (2008). Personal resiliency: Serious diagnosis and prognosis with unexpected quality outcomes. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3): 391-404.
- Zander M, Hutton A & King L (2013). Exploring resilience in paediatric oncology nursing staff. Collegian, 20, 17-25.