Compassion Fatigue: Definition, Causes & Statistics

Instructor: Amy Lipsett

Amy works as a nurse educator for a university health care organization. She has a bachelor's of science in nursing and a master's degree in health care administration.

In this lesson, we will explore the definition and causes of compassion fatigue. The statistics associated with compassion fatigue will also be reviewed in this lesson.

Compassion Fatigue: Definition, Causes, and Statistics

You are a nurse on the trauma intensive care unit of a large urban hospital. Day in and out, you take care of critically ill patients, some of which never return to their normal self. Others do not survive. You are dedicated to your patients, but, lately, you have been feeling very stressed. You have been in a funk, but honestly, nothing is 'wrong' in your life. You find yourself wondering what in the world is going on with you.


Compassion fatigue is often described as a health care professional's 'cost of caring' for patients. It often occurs very quickly and can be triggered by one specific patient case. Health care providers that suffer from this are considered to be victims of secondary trauma because their efforts to be empathetic and compassionate to their patients are what trigger compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is characterized by physical and psychological distress. Therefore, the health care provider often shows a noticeable change in his or her ability to show empathy and compassion to patients. Often, the provider becomes negative and no longer enjoys his or her career. Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to depression, stress-related illnesses, and the demise of the health care professional's career.

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