6 factors that influence nurse compassion fatigue

Younger, less experienced nurses are more likely to suffer from compassion fatigue and lower levels of satisfaction, according to a survey published in Critical Care Nurse.

The pressure to appear compassionate and caring around the clock often leads to emotional exhaustion in nurses, causing symptoms similar to those of post-raumatic stress disorder. But the latest research indicates that older, more experienced nurses have a greater ability to show compassion without experiencing stress and burnout more common in younger nurses.

Researchers say the findings suggest that their experience may allow older nurses to better cope with the challenges of critical care nursing and may contribute to their professional quality of life.

"Although nurses obtain professional satisfaction from their work, repeated exposure to the aftermath of critical illness puts them at high risk for compassion fatigue," said lead author Tara Sacco, R.N., a clinical nurse specialist at New York's University of Rochester Medical Center in a study announcement.

The survey findings provide a snapshot of the issues that impact the professional life of a nurse and what healthcare organizations can do to create a healthy work environment, said Sacco.

The research team surveyed 221 adult, pediatric and neonatal critical care nurses who worked in single acuity and mixed-acuity units at a western New York academic medical center to pinpoint characteristics that contribute to compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue.

They found that other factors that contribute to compassion fatigue include:

  • A change in management
  • A recent unit redesign 
  • Gender (male nurses had lower levels of compassion satisfaction)
  • Education level (nurses with a bachelor's degree had lower satisfaction scores than those with an associate's or master's degree) 
  • Mixed-acuity units

Researchers suggest that it will be difficult for healthcare leaders to prevent compassion fatigue because there are so many demographic and organizational variables that contribute to the stress and burnout. Instead, they suggest hospital executives work to improve the work environment and provide interventions that increase satisfaction via professional development and recognition. .

To learn more:
- read the survey
- read the announcement