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How to Combat Compassion Fatigue in Emergency Department Nurses

Posted by Shift Admin on July 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM

As professionals on the front line who are consistently and routinely prioritizing the needs of others, it’s common for emergency department nurses to neglect the one person who is equally as important as their patients: themselves.

While it’s a relatively new concept, compassion fatigue is something that affects nurses everywhere. Though it’s a phenomenon that is commonly associated with burnout, burnout emerges over an extended period of time as compared to the fast-acting onset of this type of fatigue. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) defines compassion fatigue as “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.”

It’s an increasingly serious issue that can potentially cause very dangerous and very costly problems for individual nurses, their patients, and their emergency department as a whole. Disregarding the symptoms of compassion fatigue is all-too-easy to do, but it’s never been more important to prioritize them. Here’s what they look like:


  • Deteriorating health
  • Insomnia
  • Impact on quality of care
  • Alienation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Compassion fatigue shows its face in many different ways. Here are just a few of its root causes.


  • Long shifts
  • Excessive, consecutive long shifts
  • High patient turnover
  • Regular exposure to trauma, fear, irritability, anxiety, melancholy, etc.

Keep Reading: Reduce Emergency Department Chaos with Efficient Scheduling


As daunting and potentially dangerous as compassion fatigue can be, there are solutions. Here are just a few of them.

  • Encourage Self-Awareness
    • Being honest is the first integral step toward effectively combating the dangers of compassion fatigue. It’s common for nurses to feel as if they are immune to the symptoms that come with it, but beware confusing control with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Be aware, be honest, and be open.
  • Encourage Self-Care
    • In regards to nursing, putting others before yourself is typically a required (yet, noble) prerequisite. However, one cannot adequately care for others if they are not first caring for themselves.
  • Encourage Honesty
    • Harboring emotions can eventually lead to larger, harder-to-solve issues and should not be encouraged. Instead, encourage nurses to speak out and seek support when they feel that they need it. Give them a voice and give them a platform on which to use it.
  • Make Yourself Available
    • A positive support network is an incredibly effective way to minimize the impacts that compassion fatigue can have on a nurse.
  • Promote a Healthy Balance
    • Encourage nurses to take time for themselves. This can be in the form of relaxation, connecting with others, or any other type of non-work related activities that they enjoy.
  • Provide Healthy Scheduling
    • A fair, equitable schedule is the key ingredient to giving nurses a sustainable work-life balance. Familiarize yourself with the signs of compassion fatigue and burnout, give nurses a chance to voice their opinions and input on what works (or doesn’t work) for them, and work with them to create the perfect schedule.

If fair, equitable emergency department scheduling is what is standing between you and the way out of compassion fatigue, Shift Admin offers a powerful provider scheduling software solution that allows users to automatically generate optimized schedules based on their fully customizable rules and requests. This will enable you to address the issues causing compassion fatigue, determine the best course of scheduling action by which to deter them and make the change in real-time. Click here to learn how this is done, and click below to request a demo of our simple, yet powerful, user interface.

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Topics: Emergency Medicine Staff Scheduling