Compassion Fatigue

Topics: Health care, Health care provider, Patient Pages: 7 (1905 words) Published: May 13, 2013

Compassion Fatigue

Amber Norris

Grand Canyon University:


March 30, 2013

Compassion Fatigue

“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.”

― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

The health care industry is made up of nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals who are dedicated to the care and healing of others. The modern medical field is a very fast-paced, stressful, and demanding environment. Often, the constant stress and demands of the job can adversely affect the healthcare provider. Not surprisingly, those who go into the healthcare industry, do so because they have a sincere desire to make a difference in people’s lives and provide care for a patient’s spiritual, mental, and physical needs. However, this type of career requires energy and dedication way beyond that of other comparable careers. “Compassion fatigue” is a common side-effect. “Compassion fatigue” can be defined as, “the gradual decline of compassion over time as a result of caregivers being exposed to events that have traumatized their patients (Cherry 497).” In fact, the damage that results from this condition has been linked to more sick days, high turnover rates, and decreased productivity. If left untreated, this condition can adversely affect patient safety, so it is vital that hospitals and healthcare providers are able to accurately recognize compassion fatigue and treat it early. (Landro, L. 2012)

Compassion is an important and critical gift necessary for the care of others. Compassion can be defined as, “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (Merriam-Webster 2013). No one is immune to compassion fatigue. In fact, anyone caring for another person can suffer from it. However, compassion fatigue is more prevalent in the health care industry due to the extenuating nature of the work. The reality is that healthcare providers have an exhausting array of job duties that entail lengthy shifts, selfless service, endless dedication, love, and compassion. Due to the extreme demands, medical professionals often neglect their own personal needs for the sake of others. Every single day, healthcare professionals come face to face with disease, illness, decline in health, and death. Over time, it can be incredibly traumatizing.

“Compassion is a verb.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

If not prevented or left untreated, “compassion fatigue” can negatively affect a caregiver emotionally, spiritually, cognitively, physically and behaviorally. Warning signs can manifest themselves in a variety of ways.

The emotional effects of compassion fatigue can include mood disturbances, increased apathy, lassitude, irritability, discontentment, hopelessness, aggressiveness, hostility, numbness, and helplessness. (Eagan, T. 2012) Other signs may include oversensitivity, restlessness, depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. (Lombardo, B., Eyre, C., 2011)

The spiritual effects of compassion fatigue may often be harder to pinpoint. Warning signs may include subtle things such as starting to question one’s purpose in life, an increasing sense of disbelief or an increasing sense of aimlessness. (Ginter, C. 2010). The caregiver may start to question their personal religious beliefs, become increasingly skeptical and even question life’s meaning. (Portnoy, D. 2011)

The cognitive effects of compassion fatigue can be easier to identify. It’s easy to observe when someone is having difficulty concentrating or is unable to focus on tasks and duties that are critical to the job. The work ethic and performance of the healthcare provider may also be affected, resulting in increased absences, low morale, decreased motivation, and overall...

References: Boyle, D., (2011) "Countering Compassion Fatigue: A Requisite Nursing Agenda" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 16, No. 1, Manuscript 2.
Cherry, Jacob. Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends, and Management, 5th Edition. Mosby, 2011. .
Eagan, T. (2012) Compassion Fatigue Retrieved April 3rd 2013 from:
Frandsen, B
Lombardo, B., Eyre, C., (Jan 31, 2011) "Compassion Fatigue: A Nurse’s Primer" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 16, No. 1, Manuscript 3.
Mother Teresa (n.d.) Quotes Retrieved April 7th, 2013 from:
Pfifferling, J., Gilley, K
Portnoy, D. (2011) Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Watch for the Signs Retrieved April 3rd, 2013 from: (2013) Your Needs
Thich Nhat Hanh (n.d.) Quotes Retrieved April 6th, 2013 from:
Varner, J
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