Compassion Can Cause Exhaustion Among Nurses

Nurses' Emotional Wellbeing Can Be Compromised By Showing High Levels Of Compassion


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The pressure to appear compassionate at all times is leaving many nurses emotionally exhausted.

Research carried out at the University of Bedfordshire asked trainee nurses about their stress levels outside of work and it discovered that high levels of empathy and compassion can leave them feeling burnt out.

However, it was also noted that by providing the right support channels, hospitals can help caregivers to find a much healthier work-life balance.

Professor Gail Kinman, who completed the research along with her colleague Sandra Leggetter, said the discovery is important because many of the people questioned are already showing signs of mental fatigue despite having only recently embarked on their careers.

Speaking to the Nursing Times, Ms Kinman said: "Displaying compassion and empathy is a fundamental requirement in nursing and is valued by patients and their families. However, this 'emotional labour' can affect their wellbeing. Our research found some support for the idea that emotional support can help break this relationship."

She is calling for further studies to be completed in this area to find out what kind of programmes and initiatives can be created to ensure nurses deliver "compassionate, patient-centred care" without affecting their own emotional health.

Among the signs of emotional exhaustion were tiredness, deliberately spending time away from friends and family, not being able to switch off outside of work and low moods. As part of the questionnaire, nurses were asked a series of questions about their lives, both inside and outside of work, such as how they thought stress affected their personal lives.

This is not the first warning about this problem, either. In 2009, Leicester University's school of psychology said nurses could develop mental health problems if they have to empathise too much with their patients.

Part of the problem could be that they will suffer flashbacks, while they may eventually become emotionally detached from their jobs.

Expert Opinion
It is important that all healthcare staff are given the best possible conditions to be able to carry out their job to the best of their ability. It is important for patient safety that nurses are not worked to the point of exhaustion.

“Showing compassion is a hugely important part of nursing but it important to make sure it doesn’t have an impact either on the employees health or those that they are caring for.”
Lisa Jordan, Partner