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Nurses are the epitome of compassion and care. They take charge of nurturing the community’s well-being, especially in times of public health crisis. Registered nurses serve as the shoulder to lean on in times of anguish and suffering. What happens when they are the ones in need of care? 

Two years ago, we were all caught up in a worldwide crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of it, medical frontliners have encountered a drastic increase in their workload, leading to physical and mental exhaustion worldwide. 

However, if you dig deeper into this exhaustion, it will reveal a dilemma that can be detrimental to your employees’ capability to provide care. Primarily known as compassion fatigue, this syndrome robs individuals, especially nurses, of their empathy.  

Through this article, you will learn more about compassion fatigue in nursing, how it affects nurses mentally and physically, and how you and your organization should handle it. 

What Is Compassion Fatigue in Nursing? 

Compassion fatigue, also known as empathy fatigue or vicarious trauma, refers to the feeling of distress mainly associated with experiencing trauma from caring for patients and exposure to a stressful environment. 

Compassion fatigue is most common in “helping professions” such as nursing, where your employees are required to care for patients regardless of possible impacts on their well-being. It is a syndrome that describes the state of being physically and mentally exhausted due to stress and burnout that nurses experience. 

Compassion fatigue and burnout are different from one another. Compassion fatigue is mistaken as burnout – a cumulative sense of fatigue or dissatisfaction. However, compassion fatigue is a combination of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.  

Burnout is the feeling of hopelessness, while secondary traumatic stress is accompanied by experiences of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as nightmares or seeing intrusive images from traumatic events.  

Compassion fatigue mainly originates from prolonged exposure to challenging situations like dealing with trauma victims. 

What Causes Compassion Fatigue? 

In a job that requires interaction with various people every day, experiencing compassion fatigue is nothing new. However, the fact that it still poses a threat to the health of your nurses cannot be denied. 

Compassion fatigue affects millions of healthcare nurses worldwide, especially those directly involved in healing or helping capacities. Some commonly known causes of compassion fatigue include: 

  • Overworking or excessively long work shifts
  • Stress from work or home
  • Repeated trauma or pressure
  • Exposure to illnesses and death (bereavement and grief)
  • Dealing with evidence or reports of accidents that may cause trauma
  • Providing care to someone who has a mental illness, especially those who are having thoughts of suicide

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue? 

Compassion fatigue may not only affect your nurses’ job performance, but it can also impact their overall well-being, including their thoughts and emotions outside of work.  

As an employer, it is vital to recognize the warning signs your nurses may exhibit and take preventive measures as soon as possible. 

Since compassion fatigue in nursing primarily affects nurses’ mental state, here are some signs that you must watch out for: 

  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Hints of self-medication or addiction (alcohol, smoking, gambling)
  • Emotional withdrawal or detachment
  • Anxiety or depressive feelings
  • Anger issues
  • Low productivity
  • Low motivation

Nurses’ physical health mirrors their emotions and mental well-being. These are more common bodily signs and symptoms that they may also experience if they are dealing with compassion fatigue: 

  • Insomnia or difficulty in sleeping
  • Changes in eating patterns or appetite
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Extreme tiredness or exhaustion
  • Weakened immune system

Interventions for Compassion Fatigue 

The American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics states the importance of incorporating self-care as a duty of nurses as a duty of nurses in addition to providing care to patients. Thus, employers and leaders within healthcare hospitals and medical centers must also take care of their staff, especially nurses.  

In response to the dilemma caused by the prevalence of compassion fatigue in the healthcare sector, these are ways you can deal with nurses who are already experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout: 

1. Promoting self-care strategies and coping skills

A healthy self-support system and work-life balance enable nurses to find happiness in their careers.  

Since self-care and coping mainly focus on nurturing the well-being of nurses, you can encourage them to have hobbies and activities that they may find enjoyable. 

You can also implement programs, seminars, and workshops to foster their health by raising awareness. Such initiatives will introduce them to healthy coping mechanisms to help them carry out their duties. 

2. Engaging in meditation and mindfulness activities

Another practice you can promote is meditation. By giving nurses time to reflect and assess their mental well-being, you increase their motivation and compassion toward their careers.  

Activities such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, walking meditations, and many more can significantly impact their peace of mind. It equips them to cope with the stress and pressure of their jobs. 

3. Presenting accessible and available resources

When you present counseling services, employee benefits, and active contact information, you aid in battling compassion burnout in nursing. By providing accessible help, you take a crucial step in advocating for their well-being.  

Through resources that will reveal their current state and show a way out, nurses can improve themselves and, consequently, their quality of care. 

Preventing Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

With how compassion fatigue torments the lives of several nurses worldwide, taking preventive measures is the most effective weapon that you can use against this dilemma. Here are some methods to prevent your nurses from experiencing compassion burnout: 

1. Let nurses set their boundaries.

When nurses fail to maintain the boundary between themselves and their patients, they can put their careers at risk, as it may harm their well-being. 

Remind nurses that being compassionate is different from overly involving themselves in the lives of their patients. When nurses are taught to set boundaries, they will know when to get involved. 

The best way to do this is by helping nurses prepare to find strategies to console patients without the need to be overly emotional. 

2. Create a balance between their work and personal lives.

Nurses are humans, too. Balancing their work schedule with personal endeavors can significantly boost their well-being. 

Let nurses say “no” to extended shifts, a factor that may deprive them of their happiness. Also, let nurses say “yes” to opportunities that will allow them to enjoy themselves.  

Give them time and resources to socialize, find hobbies, and travel. With this, you nurture their personal lives and increase their productivity once they get back to work.

The Fire in Their Hearts Will Light Up The Path Toward Great Nursing 

There is a pre-flight safety instruction where people are told to put their oxygen masks first before helping others. In the same way, a nurse cannot help their patients unless they know how to take care of themselves.  

When you let your nurses recharge themselves, you allow them to grow as better people first and better professionals second. When you protect their fire for service, you can be sure that everyone – nurses, patients, and your organization – will benefit. 


Compassion fatigue in nursing should not be dealt with on your own. From informative articles to passionate services, PRS Global is always ready to keep you company. 

Our website will continue to release articles that can help you as you direct employees to the best path you can find. Our direct-hire services will ensure you find passionate and professional nurses willing to work with and for your organization. With these two services on your side, PRS Global can help keep the fire of service burning. 

Contact us today, and let us get started on creating the best employee pipeline for your organization!