Compassion Fatigue: Are You at Risk?

Kate Sheppard, PhD, RN, FNP, PMHNP-BC, FAANP


Am Nurs Journal. 2016;11(1) 

In This Article


For many of us, nursing isn't just what we do; it's who we are. Most of us became nurses because we care about people and want to make a difference in their lives.

Over time, nurses develop a nursing intuition and a working knowledge of disease and trauma. Our intuition, knowledge, and caring don't automatically shut off when we leave work. For example, have you ever seen a worrisome mole on a complete stranger? Have you felt concern about a friend's weight or a neighbor's smoking habits? Have you ever been in a public place when you heard someone coughing—and wondered at what point you might intervene? These experiences are common among nurses. Yet, inability to shut off our knowledge and caring may leave us feeling emotionally saturated and raise our risk for compassion fatigue.

Ideally, as nurses, we should feel satisfied with our work and derive satisfaction from providing excellent care. Compassion fatigue has been defined as loss of satisfaction that comes from doing one's job well, or job-related distress that outweighs job satisfaction. Sometimes, merely being exposed to another's traumatic experience leaves us feeling emotionally distraught. Called secondary traumatic stress, this is a part of compassion fatigue. As our sense of job satisfaction decreases, we may feel more burnout. A reaction to our work environment, burnout can stem from such conditions as short-staffing, long work hours, workplace incivility, and feeling dismissed or invalidated. (See Research on compassion fatigue.)