Nurse Survey Examines Factors Related to Compassion Fatigue, Compassion Satisfaction

Article in Critical Care Nurse describes the demographic, unit and organizational factors that may contribute to nurses’ professional quality of life


Understanding the demographic and organizational factors related to nurses’ professional quality of life can help educators and healthcare leaders develop effective work environment interventions, according to an article in the August issue of Critical Care Nurse (CCN).

The article, “Compassion Satisfaction and Compassion Fatigue Among Critical Care Nurses,” describes the demographic, unit and organizational factors that may contribute to nurses’ professional quality of life. It also establishes the prevalence of satisfaction and fatigue in adult, pediatric and neonatal critical care nurses.

Critical care nurses at a western New York academic medical center were surveyed using a demographic questionnaire and the Professional Quality of Life Scale to measure levels of compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction. A total of 221 nurses from nine units responded to the cross-sectional survey, which examined levels of compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

Lead author Tara Sacco, RN, MS, CCRN, AGCNS-BC, ACCNS-AG, is a visiting assistant professor at St. John Fisher College, Wegman School of Nursing, and a clinical nurse specialist at University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.

“Although nurses obtain professional satisfaction from their work, repeated exposure to the aftermath of critical illness puts them at high risk for compassion fatigue,” Sacco said. “Our findings provide a snapshot into issues related to nurses’ professional quality of life, with implications for efforts to create healthy work environments.”

Overall, critical care nurses scored within the average range for all three areas (compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress), and differences in scores among units were not significant.

From an organizational perspective, this finding indicates the current work environment appears to vary dramatically based on several factors, and interventions can focus on increasing levels of satisfaction rather than preventing compassion fatigue.

The researchers examined several organizational factors that affect professional quality of life, such as changes in management or organizational structure.

  • Nurses who had a recent change in management had significantly lower mean compassion satisfaction scores, suggesting that units with a stable leadership structure have an environment more supportive of compassion satisfaction.
  • Respondents who experienced a recent unit redesign scored higher on the secondary traumatic stress scale, suggesting that an evolving work environment places nurses at higher risk for compassion fatigue.

“Nurse leaders would be smart to implement support systems to guide staff through systems or practice change, such as a unit redesign,” Sacco said. “Our findings can be used to implement changes to improve the work environment with a culture of caring, recognition, professional development and debriefing.”

The research team also found significant differences on the basis of sex, age, educational level, patient acuity, change in nursing management and major systems change.

  • Female nurses reported significantly higher compassion satisfaction than did male nurses.
  • Nurses working on single-acuity units had significantly higher compassion satisfaction than those on mixed-acuity units.

  • High levels of compassion satisfaction were more likely among nurses with an associate’s degree or a master’s degree than among nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

  • Nurses 40 to 49 years old and nurses working on mixed-acuity units had significantly higher burnout and higher secondary traumatic stress scores.

Of the individual demographic factors examined, the most striking finding suggested that nurses’ age has a great impact on their professional quality of life. Specifically, nurses 50 years or older scored higher on the compassion satisfaction scale and lower on the burnout and secondary traumatic stress scale than their younger counterparts.

“More professional and life experience may contribute to older nurses being better prepared to cope with the challenges of critical care nursing,” Sacco said.

The study adds to previous research that focused on social workers and nurses in other environments, including emergency, pediatric, oncology and hospice.

As the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ bimonthly clinical practice journal for high acuity, progressive and critical care nurses, CCN is a trusted source for information related to the bedside care of critically and acutely ill patients.

Access the article abstract and full-text PDF by visiting the CCN website at http://ccn.aacnjournals.org.

About Critical Care Nurse: Critical Care Nurse (CCN), a bimonthly clinical practice journal published by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, provides current, relevant and useful information about the bedside care of critically and acutely ill patients. The journal also offers columns on traditional and emerging issues across the spectrum of critical care, keeping critical care nurses informed on topics that affect their practice in high acuity, progressive and critical care settings. CCN enjoys a circulation of more than 100,000 and can be accessed at http://ccn.aacnjournals.org/.

About the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Founded in 1969 and based in Aliso Viejo, California, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. AACN joins together the interests of more than 500,000 acute and critical care nurses and includes more than 225 chapters worldwide. The organization’s vision is to create a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families in which acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution. www.aacn.org; facebook.com/aacnface; twitter.com/aacnme

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