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Vidette Todaro-Franceschi tackles ‘Compassion Fatigue’

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Vidette Todaro-Franceschi almost didn’t become a nurse. But after studying journalism and business and having two children, she decided to go back to school and answer the “call to care.”

A mother of three by the time she graduated with her first degree in 1982, Todaro-Franceschi fell in love with nursing. She continued her studies and earned a BSN in 1985. But over time, the stress of the job got to her. As she recounted in a recent interview, she considered quitting and applied for a job at Macy’s, “I was compassion fatigued. There were times when I just felt like quitting. Not all health care settings have all the resources and systems in place to provide quality care the way nurses want to provide it. When you work in a field where you are frequently fighting against a gradient to do the right thing, it tires you out. So I applied for a job at Macys.”

But she admitted that she kept her plan a secret, “I didn’t tell anyone about it. But when they offered me a management position, I had to tell my husband I was considering it. He looked at me like I was growing two heads and said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I realized then that I was being silly — that there were other options and that I needn’t give up my career. So I went back to school and cut back to part time.”

Todaro-Franceschi earned a Master’s Degree, which she acknowledged “opened up a new world for me. Once I earned my master’s degree, all kinds of career opportunities became available. In addition to staying in practice, I became a scholar, doing research, writing and presenting.”

Her writing includes the book, “Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing: Enhancing Professional Quality of Life.” Todaro-Franceschi explained how it came about, “My many years of practice and teaching provided much impetus for this book. Increasingly over the years I have noted that many nurses coming back to school are suffering with compassion fatigue, moral distress and burnout. I have seen it from both sides — as a career and as a patient — how professional quality of life profoundly affects quality of care. There are no books that really address this and I have been teaching and speaking about it for many years; it was time to put it in writing. I am hopeful that it can help nurses and other health care professionals to reaffirm the purpose in their caring work.”

She defined compassion fatigue as “a syndrome that people who care for others can develop; it happens quite suddenly when one co-suffers or internalizes the suffering of others. People who are compassion fatigued will continue to care, although it is hurting them. It leads to emotional exhaustion, feelings of helplessness and a whole cadre of things that can affect one’s day-to-day living.”

Tackling the issue is imperative according to Todaro-Franceschi, "If it isn’t addressed, it can progress to burnout over time. Burnout is pretty serious and in fact in some countries it is an established medical diagnosis. It is when one disengages or disconnects from their work and essentially loses their sense of purpose. This is when a person becomes robotic in the way they approach work and even life — burned out people are losing their moments and can no longer find any joy in their lives.”

Todaro-Franceschi hopes that the caregivers who read her book will learn a key lesson. “Probably the biggest take away is that nurses and others who work in health care MUST care compassionately and should always feel free to be moral — to act in the best interests for all, including themselves,” she noted.

Todaro-Franceschi, notes that the most important thing "for nurses and other health care professionals to do is to always remain mindful of our purpose as carers. We exist to serve people, and no matter where we work, our first responsibility is to the people we are caring for, not the setting or the administration. We have an obligation to act with moral comportment, to do the right thing and to try to always act in the best interests of the people we serve. In fact, I believe that if everyone were to think like that, the world would be a much better place and especially the world of health care!”

No doubt there are a lot of readers who will be glad that Todaro-Franceschi didn’t take that job at Macy’s. Learn more about Vidette Todaro-Franceschi RN, PhD, FT and “Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing: Enhancing Professional Quality of Life” on her official website.

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