Developing a Program to Address Compassion Fatigue in Emergency Nurses
Compassion fatigue is a serious issue affecting many emergency room nurses today. Prolonged exposure to patient trauma and suffering can lead nurses to experience symptoms of secondary traumatic stress and burnout. This takes a significant toll on nurses’ well-being and ability to provide quality care (Hunsaker et al., 2015). With rates of opioid overdoses and other medical emergencies on the rise, emergency nurses are at even greater risk of developing compassion fatigue (CDC, 2022). To help combat this issue, hospitals should develop and implement an evidence-based program focused on overcoming compassion fatigue.
A well-designed program could help emergency nurses better manage the daily stresses of their work. It is important that any program incorporate strategies shown to be effective through scholarly research. For example, self-care activities like yoga, meditation, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance have been associated with lower levels of compassion fatigue (O’Callaghan et al., 2017). The program should provide resources to help nurses incorporate these types of self-care practices into their daily routines. Peer support is another critical element. Designated times for nurses to debrief with colleagues after difficult shifts can help prevent the negative effects of secondary traumatic stress (Joinson, 1992).
In addition to self-care strategies, the program must address systemic issues that contribute to compassion fatigue within the emergency department itself. High patient volumes, understaffing, and a fast-paced work environment all exacerbate stress and fatigue (Hunsaker et al., 2015). The program could work with hospital administrators to evaluate workflows and staffing models. Implementing process improvements aimed at reducing unnecessary tasks and increasing support staff where needed may help create a more sustainable work environment over the long-term (Watson et al., 2023). Regular assessments of nurses’ well-being and needs should also guide ongoing modifications to the program.
Evaluating the effectiveness of the compassion fatigue program is important to demonstrate its value. Pre- and post-implementation surveys could measure changes in levels of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion satisfaction among participating nurses (Stamm, 2010). Tracking absenteeism, turnover rates, and the number of workplace injury claims may also provide useful metrics. With strong administrative support and input from frontline nurses, a well-designed compassion fatigue program shows promise for improving emergency nurse retention as well as patient outcomes.
Hunsaker, S., Chen, H.-C., Maughan, D., & Heaston, S. (2015). Factors that influence the development of compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction in emergency department nurses. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47(2), 186–194. https://doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12122
Joinson, C. (1992). Coping with compassion fatigue. Nursing, 22(4), 116–122.
O’Callaghan, E., McDermott, F., Hudson, P., & Zalcberg, J. R. (2017). Compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue in Australian palliative care workers. Supportive Care in Cancer, 25(4), 1127–1136. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-016-3496-5
Stamm, B. H. (2010). The concise ProQOL manual (2nd ed.). Pocatello, ID: ProQOL.org.
Watson, C., McCracken, C., Orme, D., Rogers, C., & Erdley, W. S. (2023). Improving safety and quality with an emergency department overcrowding plan. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 49(4), 418–424. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jen.2022.12.004
CDC. (2022). Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999-2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data-visualization/drug-poisoning-mortality/index.htm

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