Doctors, Nurses Battle Compassion Fatigue

Doctors, Nurses Battle Compassion Fatigue

United Press International

April 13, 2009

A U.S. doctor cautions that medical professionals who see their patients die are vulnerable to compassion fatigue.

Dr. Caroline Carney Doebbeling of the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis reviewed 57 compassion fatigue studies and says those working with the terminally ill need to be taught what to expect and how to deal with their experiences.

“We are taught in medicine to be brave and to be strong, but there should also be a time and place for emotional expression, and perhaps even for crying,” Doebbeling says in a statement.

“Doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare team must be steady sources of support for patient. But when the patient encounter is over, at the end of the day, the doctor or nurse or social worker or clerk needs to be able to process everything they have seen and experienced. We need to support people who work with the sickest of the sick.”

Those suffering from what began to be called compassion fatigue in the 1990s may create a distance from patients as a way of self-protection and develop symptoms such as chronic tiredness, irritability, lack of joy in life and destructive behaviors such as drinking to excess.

The findings are published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

Quiz: How Do You React to Stress in the Workplace?

Related Articles:
How Nurses Are Avoiding Burnout
Stressed Out? How Nurses Can Regain Some Calm

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    over 5 years ago

    This is a valuable information for all involved directly or indirectly in the care of patients and loved ones. Too often the outlets for compassion fatigue are destructive and are counter productive to our ability to give care and to care for ourselves. There should be more focus on self care and stress reduction to decrease burnout and the ability to be emphatic. Let us learn to take a training time out, or should I dare say "Compassion Time OUT?


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    Amen! We nurses do experience so much, that we too, need to feel compassion and support. I feel the communities all over need to understand just what a nurse does and what it really means to be a nurse. Nurses are the 1st line of defense in communicable diseases and we do give on all levels, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My Motto is LOVE A NURSE PRN.... And that can be applied quite often. Thank You for allowing me to weigh in on this issue. I just finished a 14hr. combination 2nd-3rd shift, myself. I am one exhausted nurse. But I do Love patient care and am proud to be able to serve as a Nurse. I just feel sometimes we are not fully understood in our field. Nurses GIVE yourselves A HUG,YOU DESERVE IT. Keep ENCOURAGING ONE ANOTHER. Keep Educating the communities about nurses and nursing. And KEEP SMILING!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    This is a wonderful article! I graduated from nursing school in 1981 and there was no instruction or preparation concerning the after effects of patient deaths on a health care worker. I went right into floor nursing and absolutely loved it, but I was not prepared for the devastation I felt when my patients died. After only 2 and 1/2 years of practice I left nursing for approximately 3 years. Somehow during that time I was able to work through my feelings about death, and when I returned to nursing, I was better able to handle the reality of patients dying and the grief that ensued for the family. Hopefully nursing schools address these issues now, better preparing their students for the reality of death and for their own feelings of loss and sadness.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    I am a hospice nurse and am going on my 10th year. Two years ago I changed my status from full-time to prn because of needing a break. Unfortunately I fall in love with everyone of my patients and I had become very attached to three of the patients I had admitted. When I lost them I was devastated. I had lost many patients in the past but the loss of these three and experiencing a personal loss was more than I could handle. The time away with just working a day here and there was a much needed break. However, I missed it terribly. I just recently returned to part-time, 3 days a week. Hospice is my passion and will always be a part of my life. I know there will be times when I will feel overwhelmed but I work for a wonderful non-for-profit organization and they are very understanding when it comes to the highs and lows that their staff experienced.

NursingLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a nursing or healthcare degree program. Use NursingLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.