Day in and day out, nurses provide empathetic, compassionate care for patients experiencing some of the most difficult times of their lives. This kind of work takes an emotional toll on nursing professionals over time, potentially leading to compassion fatigue, or a decline in the ability to provide empathetic, compassionate care.
Many nurses experience this problem. Compassion fatigue reportedly affects 16% to 39% of registered nurses, with most reports coming from nurses working in areas like hospice, oncology, and emergency care.
Recognizing and addressing the signs of compassion fatigue may allow nursing professionals to seek the help they need to provide the best nursing care possible.
Signs of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue, also sometimes referred to as vicarious or secondary traumatization, often comes on more quickly than burnout. Nurse burnout and compassion fatigue share some similar signs, including emotional and mental exhaustion, feeling isolated, and a sense of disconnect between one’s work and the goals or cause at hand.
However, compassion fatigue often includes more specific signs:
- Impairment of judgement and behavior
- A loss of hope, self-worth, and self-esteem
- A potential for PTSD and depression
- Negative impact on spiritual identity and worldview
- An overall decline in morale
- A decrease in cognitive function and ability
- Disturbances in sleep pattern
Ways to Prevent and Deal With Compassion Fatigue
Identifying and managing signs of compassion fatigue early on can help nurses recover quickly. We sought advice from nurses on how to prevent or ease the effects of compassion fatigue, detailed below.
Additional Resources for Nurses
- Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project This group aims to spread awareness of compassion fatigue. The organization's website offers resources for caregivers and healthcare professionals, including tips and self stress-tests.
- NursesRX This online resource for nursing professionals offers information on travel nursing and provides nurses with tips for combating compassion fatigue.
- RN.com Along with online continuing education opportunities, this website offers tips and tricks for dealing with compassion fatigue and helping co-workers who may also be suffering.
- Unrestrained Podcast Featuring psychiatry nurse Laurie Barkin, this free podcast episode details strategies for coping with vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Barkin draws on her extensive experience to provide support.
Jackie Murphy, EdD, RN, CPN, CNE completed her undergraduate studies at Gwynedd-Mercy University and Thomas Jefferson University. She earned an MSN in nursing education and faculty role and an EdD in educational leadership and management from Drexel University. She has worked in higher education since 2007, and currently teaches online graduate core courses, the nursing education track, and the complementary and integrative health program at Drexel. In addition to being a certified nurse educator, a certified pediatric nurse, and a certified school nurse, Murphy is certified in teaching meditation and mindfulness.
Mallorie Resendez Bassetti, CNM, MSN, is a practicing nurse-midwife in sunny Gilbert, Arizona. She works in private practice and attends births in the hospital. She is a graduate of Frontier Nursing University and earned her BS in nursing at Arizona State University prior. Currently, she is enrolled again at Frontier Nursing University to complete her doctorate of nursing practice. A self-proclaimed nerd, she loves keeping abreast of the latest research and is always fine-tuning her practice. She has a special interest in informed consent and shared-decision making.
Emma Leigh Geiser is a registered nurse, blogger at www.nursefern.com, freelance writer, and financial coach. She recently celebrated 10 years in the amazing field of nursing.