Historical Review in Understanding Burnout, Professional Compassion Fatigue, and Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder From a Hospice and Palliative Nursing Perspective

Christina S. Melvin, MS, PHCNS, BC, CHPN


Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2015;17(1):66-72. 

In This Article


Although burnout, PCF, and/or STSD may not always be preventable, they are certainly recognizable and treatable. There is the potential for significant long-term negative health and emotional effects on hospice/palliative care nurses who witness daily the suffering of others. Although this article focused on nursing, this information is clearly applicable for other professionals who provide care to suffering, traumatized, seriously ill, and/or dying patients (physicians, social workers, licensed nursing assistants, clergy, etc). The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements states: "The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to continue personal and professional growth."[49]

Strategies for addressing burnout, PCF, and STSD are essential in solidifying our nursing workforce to face the health care needs of the future. There is compelling evidence that nurses who have repeated exposure to people who are suffering, traumatized, seriously ill, and/or dying are at particular risk for these effects. Caring for the suffering potentially generates personal and emotional distress. Nurses need permission and support to deal with these emotions. It is only through careful planning, recognition of these effects in themselves and their coworkers, and intervention, when needed, that nursing's workforce can be preserved.