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Research Paper on Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

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Nursing is a difficult profession, and the emotional strain can be telling. Those involved in direct care services are likely to suffer from compassion fatigue, or "burnout" as discussed in this sample essay.

Compassion fatigue in nursing

Compassion fatigue is a condition which often occurs with nurses, caregivers, social workers and other professionals who provide direct care to individuals who are experiencing trauma or stress. Compassion fatigue can be debilitating to these professionals both in terms of their personal lives and also professional lives. The symptoms and warning signs of compassion fatigue will be explored in order to provide awareness to individuals who work within the service field. Self-care techniques will also be discussed in order to prevent compassion from impairing the work of these professionals. Compassion fatigue is a serious condition which needs to be addressed in order to care for these professionals and also reduce turnover rate in service careers which lead to improved patient care.

Warning Signs of nursing fatigue

By being aware of the warning signs of compassion fatigue caregivers can take steps to prevent the symptoms from occurring. An early warning sign of compassion fatigue can be a hopeless attitude towards work.

“The condition not only affects the ability to show compassion, but also begins to show up in clinical care” (HMA, 2010 85).

This could occur through thoughts such as “It doesn’t matter what I do” or “I don’t make a difference”. Compassion fatigue can also begin to mirror symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder which can be known as secondary trauma syndrome. Warning signs for secondary trauma are that an individual may become too involved in the patient’s care. They may begin taking on the patient’s feelings and concerns as their own. This increased involvement can be particularly time consuming if a nurse has multiple patients to provide care for.

Compassion fatigue can also progress to burnout which may result in the professional leaving their career. A warning sign for burnout could be the opposite of secondary stress. Rather than becoming too involved in the patient’s care an individual who experiences burnout may become detached from their clients. They may no longer care about what happens to their patients.

“However, nurses who find themselves constantly frustrated, emotionally drained, and less productive, are becoming cynical, or feel that they are shifting from doing a great job to just getting by should recognize these feelings as danger signals.” (Espeland, 2006 178).

Another warning sign is also that the professional may feel put upon by their colleagues. Rather than being a team player the nurse may begin to feel resentful that they are expected to complete all of the work. Exhaustion can also be a clear warning sign for multiple concepts of compassion fatigue. If a caregiver feels exhausted and drained at all times they are not only able to physically do their job to the full capacity but they also may not be able to emotionally be available for their patients.

Causes of fatigue in nursing

Compassion fatigue can be caused by numerous issues. The primary cause can be considered to be high workloads and very little time for self-care. Poor training or lack of supervision can also lead to burnout. If a professional makes a mistake during their job they may have a difficult time handling it.

“Characteristics that lead nurses to experience pressure in the OR include the need to work quickly, to face higher medical dispute risks, to work uncertain shifts, to handle precision instruments, and to master complex techniques.” (Chen, 2009 200).

This could be especially in the case of a patient’s life being put at risk. Compassion fatigue can also begin to occur if these services providers or employees are not being recognized for their hard work. Having to encounter negativity at all times can be damaging to the morale of a unit and can lead to increased rates of compassion fatigue. Service professionals are more likely to be at risk for compassion fatigue due to the high stress nature of their jobs.

Many of these professionals have patient’s lives in their hand and their decisions could affect the wellbeing of their patients. Caregivers often have to deal with patients who have had life threatening trauma occur to them or patients who are experiencing difficult times in their lives. Emphatic professionals may begin to take on their patients pain as their own increasing likelihood of experiencing compassion fatigue. Understanding these causes can lead to the development of ways to prevent burnout.

Emotional health and caregivers

These causes can lead to compassion fatigue which leads to detrimental symptoms in professionals. These symptoms can be all encompassing as they can affect a caregiver physically, spiritually, emotionally and in their careers. Physically a caregiver can begin to experiences sleeplessness, headaches, and change in appetite. Emotionally they may have a decreased sense of enjoyment in their work. Spiritually they may also feel cynical and develop a negative outlook on their life. In their jobs caregiver may procrastinate or abandon their responsibilities. These symptoms in combination with each other can be damaging to the caregiver leaving them incapable of doing their job.

Taking care of others can be a difficult job as it requires an individual to be fully capable in order to take care of those who do not have their full capacities. In order to effectively complete these jobs caregivers must have their spiritual, physical and emotional needs be met. Spiritually a caregiver should have some form of faith in what they do. They must feel as if they are making a difference or all their effort is going towards a worthwhile goal.

Without these feelings a caregiver may be discouraged from their roles. Physically a caregiver needs to have enough sleep, food and energy to be able to complete the tasks of their position. If a caregiver is physically weak they will not be able to care for another individual. Emotionally a caregiver needs to feel content and stable in their position. Caregivers must receive some form of satisfaction from their job or they will have no desire to complete their responsibilities. A caregiver who takes care of themselves and their needs is able to provide improved care to their patients. 

Self-care Techniques

To prevent compassion fatigue caregivers need to incorporate self-care techniques in their routines. Self-care techniques need to address the physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Caregivers can incorporate relaxation techniques into their day through deep breathing or meditating. They must have healthy habits which will keep them physically able to complete their jobs. Caregivers must also have healthy boundaries as they should be able to leave their work behind them when they are at home. Self-care will essentially involve anything that a caregiver likes to do for themselves which relaxes them such as a bubble bath or a walk in the park. This is especially true of night-shift workers.

Self-care should also be incorporated into the work culture. Studies have found that stress is created in caregivers from multiple arenas.

“Four levels of stress were identified in the nurse study: the individual level of the nurse, a group level that is related to the team, an organizational level and a cultural level, where care philosophy and work codes are central.” (Eredahl, 2008 45).

While the nurse can work on her individual stress levels, the workplace needs to be able to adapt to reduce stress brought on by the work environment. By providing more time for caregivers to take breaks or by not allowing them to eat lunch on their work breaks employers can ensure that they have a well-rested workforce. Employers can also ensure that caregivers have the training they need to provide competent care so that mistakes, which can lead to burnout, are not made. They can also reward caregivers for doing their job well which would build morale. If a caregiver feels appreciated they will be happy in their workplace decreasing chances of compassion fatigue.


Chen, C. K., Lin, C., Wang, S. H., & Hou, T. H. (2009). A study of job stress, stress coping strategies, and job satisfaction for nurses working in middle-level hospital operating rooms. Journal of Nursing Research, 17(3), 199-211.

Ekedahl, M., & Wengström, Y. (2008). Coping processes in a multidisciplinary healthcare team–A comparison of nurses in cancer care and hospital chaplains. European Journal of Cancer Care, 17(1), 42-48.

Espeland, K. E. (2006). Overcoming burnout: how to revitalize your career. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 37(7), 178.

HMA. (2010). Program to combat ‘compassion fatigue’. Hospice Management Advisor, 85



Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Compassion Fatigue in Nursing." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 07 May. 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-compassion-fatigue-in-nursing.html

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Ultius, Inc. (2014, May 07). Research Paper on Compassion Fatigue in Nursing. Retrieved from Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-compassion-fatigue-in-nursing.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Compassion Fatigue in Nursing." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. May 07, 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-compassion-fatigue-in-nursing.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Compassion Fatigue in Nursing." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. May 07, 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-compassion-fatigue-in-nursing.html.

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