Dr. Lauren Smith

Overcoming the Epidemic of Compassion Fatigue

Posted June 05, 2014 by Lauren Smith, MD, MPH

As I take on my new role at NICHQ as leader of a CoIIN to Reduce Infant Mortality to reduce infant mortality, I find myself in a struggle very familiar to those of us in public health who focus on promoting the health and wellbeing of entire communities – that is, how to maintain the public’s engagement and interest in the health priorities we are championing. Given the many priorities and important issues that are competing for our collective attention, it is easy to understand how policy makers and the public become numbed to the recurrent “calls to action” and the exhortations to pay more attention to: domestic violence, bullying and teen suicides, opiate addiction, gun violence, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, prematurity and infant mortality…and the list goes on. All of these issues are incredibly important and for those families and communities who are touched by them, each leaves a lasting legacy of sorrow and lost potential. If all of these causes (and more) are worthwhile, how do we make gains on any when the initial response might be to lament that we can’t do everything?

When faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges, humans can be very effective at partitioning the huge into the feasible. The first step is maintaining our faith that our efforts, when thoughtfully and creatively applied, can actually change outcomes. Once we have that confidence, then we need to gain the attention of our communities and key stakeholders whose insights and collaboration are required for our efforts to be successful. How do we break through the cacophony of dire statistics and grave warnings about so many “epidemics”?

I believe we need to adjust our language, not to substitute our appropriate reliance on data with sensationalized attention grabbing headlines, but rather to make the problem more concrete for those who don’t confront it every day.

Infant mortality is a good case in point. The US rate of 6 deaths per 1,000 live births doesn’t really have much tangible meaning to the general public. In fact, if anything, six seems like a pretty small number. But what about 24,586? That is the number of US infants who died before their first birthday in 2010. This is the equivalent of about 1,000 kindergarten classrooms of children that will never be filled. Recognizing that not all infant mortality is preventable, the question then becomes not what do we do with the number six, but how many of those kindergarten classrooms can we commit to filling with children who are healthy, happy and ready to learn. Suddenly the problem and the motivation to fix it become more real. For a state with an infant mortality rate of 9.7 per 1,000, a 20 percent decline to 7.7 would be incredibly impressive in the world of public health. But realistically, how many people will really be excited by a change from 9.7 to 7.7? For most, that hardly seems like a change at all. Yawn – turn the page, flip the channel and move on. But if we were to say that this equates to saving three entire classrooms of future kindergarteners, it might pique more interest. People can visualize a classroom of giggling kindergarteners, while describing a change from 9.7 to 7.7 has none of the same power to evoke our basic human desire to protect our offspring.

Thinking of our social “epidemics” in this way changes the discussion from statistics to people, from counting to compassion. It will help the public better understand the issue, commit to solutions, and recognize and applaud successes – and, most importantly, support more efforts to save the next classroom of children and the next.

Share:

Add your comment

 
 

 

Archive

Tagcloud

MCH men dads quality improvement testing QI change data sharing state government city government infant mortality IM CoIIN children's health innovation apps dental care sleep sickle cell disease AJPM SCD preconception care pregnancy planning underserved populations engagement senior leadership breastfeeding breastfeeding support video series health equity health disparities access New York BQIH exclusive breastfeeding NASHP LARC long-acting reversible contraception unplanned pregnancies social determinants of health public health health innovations Best Babies Zone CoIIN safe sleep baby boxes Rhode Island preterm birth Medicaid progesterone rooming-in infant health maternal health Baby-Friendly parent partner patient and family engagement healthy weight healthy lifestyles childhood obesity primary care telementoring ECHO video conferencing socioemotional health childhood development pediatric Tennessee interview National Coordinating and Evaluation Center maternal and child health medical-legal partnerships mobile app quality care disparities perinatal care overweight obese healthy weight clinic wellness pilot sites data collection WIC education resources paternal engagement perinatal regionalization risk-appropriate care preterm infants high-risk babies Ten Steps public relations social movement reversible contraceptives medical home pediatric medical home patient transformation facilitator PTF skin-to-skin rooming in smoking smoking cessation prenatal smoking Data information visualization charts SIDS SUID postpartum new mother webinar AMCHP QI Tips ongoing improvement fourth trimester partnership quality and safety coaching support PDSA Cycle leadership support year end holiday message reflections gratitute Medicaid data doctor relationship PQC perinatal quality collaboratives vision screening vision care vision health evidence-based guidelines ASH obesity health and wellness healthy living healthy eating home visitors home visiting programs March of Dimes APHA results evaluation supplementation formula reduction video infant loss social media advocacy NICHQ leadership Berns Best Fed Beginnings Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding sustainability stress prenatal care data capacity epidemiologists surveillance data PFAC community partners preconception and interconception care motivational interviewing Native Americans vulnerable populations ADHD NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale ADHD Toolkit patient engagement system design care coordination skin to skin newborn screening asthma ASTHO reduce smoking aim statement safe birth Texas Ten Step skin-to-skin contact 10 Steps staff training small tests PDSA acute care mother-baby couplet collective impact population health preconception interconception health Newborn Screening Program substance abuse breast milk formula milk bank crisis Huffington Post fundraising campaign first responders NYC