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burnout, nurses, professional compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress disorder



  1. Melvin, Christina S. MS, PHCNS, BC, CHPN


This article compares and contrasts the terms burnout, professional compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress disorder as they relate to hospice and palliative care nurses. Burnout describes distress experienced by employees related to job expectations and working conditions. In the 1990s, the term professional compassion fatigue emerged to describe the weariness experienced by health care providers repeatedly exposed to seriously ill, traumatized, suffering, and dying patients. More recently, the term secondary traumatic stress disorder has been used to describe the reactions of health care providers who experience a traumatic event vicariously by caring for seriously ill and dying patients. Recommendations include early detection of burnout, professional compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress disorder. Strategies to preserve the nurse's ability to cope include developing supports, personal awareness, and refinement of resiliency skills, self-care strategies, assertiveness skills, debriefing sessions, spirituality, and the ability of the nurse to say no.


The symptoms, recommendations, and intervention strategies for nurses are described.