1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

Caring for Caregivers: Compassion Fatigue Among Nurses

Kaiser Permanente research study shows less experienced nurses at higher risk for emotional exhaustion

Posted on

Great nurses within Kaiser Permanente and across the globe are driven by kindness and compassion. During each of their demanding shifts, nurses do their best to ensure the health and comfort of their patients even as some of them experience the most terrifying and uncertain times of their lives. Over time, these high-pressured responsibilities can exhaust nurses both emotionally and physically and cause them to experience “compassion fatigue.” Scientists at Kaiser Permanente have recently taken a closer look at nurses affected by this condition. Their findings could have a deep impact on the future of nursing.  

In a study titled “Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction Among Multisite Multisystem Nurses,” Lina Najib Kawar, PhD, RN, colleagues from Kaiser Permanente Southern California Patient Care Services, and Loma Linda University Health, surveyed more than 1,000 nurses online to measure these nurses’ emotional health and describe compassion fatigue. The condition is defined as “emotional exhaustion due to severe and prolonged interaction with clients, use of self, and exposure to stress.”

Another term the team hoped to learn more about is compassion satisfaction, defined as “a nurse gaining fulfillment through helping clients.” Data from the team’s online survey showed that more experienced nurses had higher compassion satisfaction, while new graduates and less experienced nurses had higher compassion fatigue scores. Additionally, data proved that nurses working part-time and 8-hour shifts had lower compassion fatigue scores than nurses working 12-hour shifts.

The study, which was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente Community Health, identified many factors that contribute to compassion fatigue: These include:

  • Today’s nurses manage more complex, acute-care cases than in the past.
  • Working with patients who are in pain, suffering, or at the end of life may take a toll on nurses’ psychosocial health and well-being.
  • Nowadays, nurses typically spend less time with each patient because they move quickly between interventions required to complete their care.

Given the information collected in the study, leaders have an opportunity to change nursing environments to lessen the risk of compassion fatigue and stress. According to the study authors, management and leadership support may be demonstrated by:

  • Enhancing staffing.
  • Controlling the workload.
  • Celebrating and recognizing nurses’ accomplishments by implementing acknowledgement and rewards programs.

A key finding in the research was that more experienced nurses had less compassion fatigue than newer nurses. Bridging this gap between the nursing generations and providing opportunities for mentorship could be one solution to fighting compassion fatigue. By reducing stress among nurses, health organizations can decrease turnover, improve care, and most importantly, ensure their nurses are physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy and satisfied.

“Reducing job stress and enhancing wellness in the environment nurtures nurses’ well-being and advances the profession. The wellness of Kaiser Permanente nurses is expected to contribute to member satisfaction, care, and safety, and reduce costs. It will sustain the organization goal of providing extraordinary nursing care. Every patient. Every time.”

-- Lina Najib Kawar, PhD, RN

Dr. Kawar will receive the “Excellence in Nursing Research 2019 Award” by the Association of California Nurse Leaders. The award will be presented during the 2020 ACNL Annual Program in Rancho Mirage on February 11, 2020.

Read the full study on “Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction Among Multisite Multisystem Nurses.”