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Coping with Compassion Fatigue—Tips for Medical Professionals

Working in healthcare is stressful. Hospitals are open year-round and around the clock, and those who work in healthcare see patients at some of their worst moments. The schedule and job often require tremendous amounts of compassion—which the best healthcare workers are known for.

However, even the best healthcare workers can experience burnout and compassion fatigue.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains two components of compassion fatigue. They are burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

Burnout is a severe type of exhaustion that leads to an inability to cope with stressors in your surroundings. You may be experiencing burnout if you find yourself fatigued, easily frustrated, or don’t want to go to work at a job you once enjoyed.

Secondary traumatic stress happens when you empathize with others going through a challenging experience. For example, you might work as a surgical technologist and assist in surgery for a severe car accident patient. Or maybe you are an emergency department nurse working to comfort the parents of a child admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.

Experiencing high levels of emotional stress in the workplace, which can be common in healthcare, may lead to compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

SAMHSA explains there are many signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue. You may experience all of these symptoms or multiple. Examples of symptoms include:

  • Feeling on edge
  • Indecision around decision making
  • Exhaustion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constantly thinking about patients or clients outside of the workplace
  • Reduced ability to provide care to patients and clients
  • Lack of enjoyment at work
  • Decreased control or decision-making at your workplace
  • Not feeling connected to your coworkers like you used to be
  • Feeling overwhelmed at work
  • Angry and irritable
  • Reduced empathy for patients
  • Substance abuse
  • Avoiding situations or experiences that remind you of encounters with certain patients that may have been upsetting

If you are experiencing compassion fatigue symptoms, it is essential to treat it. To take care of others, you must ensure you are taking care of yourself!

Steps to Reduce Compassion Fatigue

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce compassion fatigue. These include prioritizing self-care and talking to a therapist or counselor if needed. Examples of self-care include exercising, eating well, meditating, breathing exercises, and getting enough sleep. You can also try reaching out to coworkers for support.

Start with a few strategies and regularly incorporate them into your daily routine. If you find self-care methods helpful, you can work to include additional self-care strategies into your habits or work to increase the length of time you practice the habits you find the most beneficial.

However, if you feel overwhelmed by work and basic self-care strategies aren’t working, reach out to a mental health professional. Most workplaces have what is called an employee assistance program, or EAP. These typically offer short-term mental health services. These services are often available remotely via phone or telehealth appointments.

And, if you ultimately decide you are looking for a change of pace and a new work environment, consider a contract staffing role. Sometimes a new workplace can be a welcome change.


365 Healthcare Staffing Services is a nationwide contract staffing agency and would love to help you find the right fit. Whether you are looking to stay near your current town or are seeking a cross-country adventure, they would love to hear from you! Look at their open positions and reach out with any questions. Their team is here to help!