Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Nurses have to deal with a lot of serious situations, but one thing the public doesn't see is equally difficult, that of compassion fatigue. This lesson describes compassion fatigue and covers some of its possible signs, symptoms, and interventions.

What Is Compassion Fatigue?

Have you felt distress because you couldn't help your patient? Have you witnessed a lot of tragedy as a result of your work? Has this taken a serious toll on your psyche?

Well, that could be due to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a state of frustration, low morale, guilt, and distress arising from an inability to better your patient's negative situation.

Let's look at some of its signs and possible interventions.


In short, compassion fatigue is the final manifestation of discomfort and stress arising from the close, empathetic, and compassionate personal care of patients in physical, emotional, or social pain.

In its simplest sense, think of compassion fatigue as utter exhaustion and malaise as a result of caregiving, especially when the care is given in combination with an inability to change the course of the patient's pain and/or a lack of proper support in the workplace. Compassion fatigue is like a gas tank that is depleted faster than it can be filled up. Eventually you just run out of everything and come to a stop.

However, compassion fatigue's complete potential signs depend on each nurse's unique self and situation.

Emotional signs and symptoms include:

  • Anger
  • Apathy
  • Sarcasm
  • Hopelessness
  • Indifference
  • Discouragement

Intellectual signs and symptoms include:

  • The inability to concentrate very well
  • A lack of attention to detail
  • Messiness

Physical and external signs and symptoms include:

  • A lack of energy
  • Loss of strength and endurance
  • A loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Increased absence from work
  • Diminished performance at the workplace
  • A desire to quit your job entirely


As the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue are highly varied, interventions aimed at compassion fatigue must be equally varied. Appropriate work/life balances come into play here. A nurse should take some time for him or herself. This means:

  • Exercising and eating a healthy diet
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Hobbies

Continuing education programs can also be put into place to help prevent or resolve compassion fatigue. These programs can teach participants coping techniques and how to communicate and establish appropriate boundaries with patients (and their family members) in times of stress.

Other important interventions related to compassion fatigue can include on-site counseling from a licensed therapist, or even group support as a way to address one's emotional issues. Art therapy, or other techniques during the workday can provide a brief outlet/break from the nurse's duties as well.

Lesson Summary

Compassion fatigue can be summed up as emotional, intellectual, and even physical exhaustion arising from compassionate and empathetic care for ones patients.

It's signs and symptoms include:

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