We Grieve Too

One Inpatient Oncology Unit's Interventions for Recognizing and Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Katrina L. Fetter, RN, BSN, OCN


Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2012;16(6):559-561. 

In This Article

Causes of Compassion Fatigue

Oncology nurses often are recognized for the quality of compassionate care they provide. Compassion is the regard and respect for fellow humans, including the bearing of another's suffering and a desire to relieve it (Figley, 2002). Compassionate caring has certain emotional consequences that result from helping or wanting to help a suffering person. Sustained compassionate nursing practice can lead to CF and emotional exhaustion (Aycock & Boyle, 2009).

Dorz et al. (2003) found greater emotional exhaustion in oncology healthcare professionals than in healthcare professionals caring for patients with HIV or AIDS. Negative consequences of emotional exhaustion can include burden, depression, anxiety, fear, apathy, desire to quit, and helplessness (Coetzee & Klopper, 2010). An overall decline in nurses' immune systems and quality of life can result from CF (Figley, 2002). A variety of physical symptoms related to CF are experienced by nurses as well, including forgetfulness, headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, weight gain, anger, stiff neck, fatigue, and disrupted sleep (Aycock & Boyle, 2009). Coetzee and Klopper (2010) described symptoms that start as weariness, but progress to a loss of physical strength and endurance once CF has developed fully, leading nurses suffering from CF to become more accident-prone.

Nurses experiencing CF demonstrate harmful behaviors. They frequently will attempt to fight CF on their own, most commonly by leaving their work setting permanently or ignoring the situation altogether (Yoder, 2010). If they remain in the work setting, CF and a lack of support can lead nurses to increased absenteeism and a loss of productivity (Medland et al., 2004).