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Compassion Fatigue in Pediatric Emergency Department Staff

Nilan, Laura M. DO, MS*†; Patel, Lina MD*; Moffatt, Mary E. MD*‡; Linebarger, Jennifer S. MD, MPH§; Sherman, Ashley K. MA; Randell, Kimberly A. MD, MSc*

doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001244
Original Article: PDF Only

Introduction Compassion fatigue, a product of burnout (BO), secondary traumatic stress (STS), and compassion satisfaction (CS), is reduced capacity and interest in being empathetic for suffering individuals. Our objective was to determine prevalence of compassion fatigue in the pediatric emergency department.

Methods We administered the Professional Quality of Life instrument, including BO, STS, and CS scales, to a convenience sample of pediatric emergency department staff (physicians, nurses, technicians, social workers, child life specialists). We categorized participants as having BO (high BO, low CS, moderate-low STS scores), STS (high STS, moderate-low BO, low CS), compassion fatigue (high STS and BO, low CS), and high-risk fatigue (high STS, moderate-low BO, low CS) and low risk (moderate-high CS, moderate-low BO, low STS) of compassion fatigue.

Results One hundred seventy-seven staff (50% response rate) participated. The majority were white (90%) and female (88%), with participation highest among physicians (97%). Twenty-six percent had low CS scores, 26% had high BO scores, and 20% had high STS scores. Five percent met criteria for categorization as compassion fatigue, 24% for BO, and 24% for low risk of compassion fatigue. Current personal stress was associated with higher BO scores (P = 0.008) and secondary categorization as BO (P = 0.05). Recent work stress was associated with high STS scores (P = 0.03).

Discussion Five percent of participants met criteria for compassion fatigue; a significant proportion had BO, STS, or CS scores, placing them at risk of compassion fatigue. Future studies should explore factors contributing to and interventions to minimize compassion fatigue.

From the *Division of Emergency and Urgent Care, †Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Divisions of ‡Child Abuse and Neglect and §Pain and Palliative Care, and ∥Health Services and Outcomes Research, Children’s Mercy, Kansas City, MO.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Laura M. Nilan, DO, MS, Division of Emergency and Urgent Care, Children’s Mercy, 2401 Gillham Rd, Kansas City, MO 64108 (e-mail:

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