Compassion fatigue in community nursing: what is it, who is susceptible, and what can be done?

02 March 2024
Volume 29 · Issue 3


Community nurses are at particular risk to compassion fatigue because their role attracts people who are compelled to help others, and because the work is emotionally challenging. This article explores the various ways in which compassion fatigue affects work and personal life, highlights three factors that make someone susceptible to it and provides recommendations on how to protect oneself from compassion fatigue. The authors also refer to their own research on super-helper syndrome to elucidate the understanding of what contributes to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is ‘an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped, to a degree that means it is traumatising for the helper’ (Figley, 1995; 2002).

The term was initially coined by Joinson (1992), in an article written for Nursing. The concept was developed further by Figley (1995).

‘Losing your ability to show care and compassion because you're just so overwhelmed with the amount of support you've been giving to people – patients, relatives, colleagues.’

Nurse interviewee

Typically, there are four responses to someone else's suffering:

These responses are normal and healthy, until they breach one's own emotional and physical boundaries. The theme of emotional empathy is particularly relevant here, and will be dicussed in more detail.

Figley more recently referred to compassion fatigue as the healer's burden, a natural consequence of providing care to sick and needy patients (Figley, 2011). This suggests it is likely to be commonplace among those who work in the caring professions.

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