The paradox of compassionate work: a mixed-methods study of satisfying and fatiguing experiences of animal health care providers

Anxiety Stress Coping. 2018 Mar;31(2):228-243. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2017.1392224. Epub 2017 Oct 24.


Background and objectives: Compassionate work appears paradoxical as it may provide great rewards, but may also come at great costs to care providers. This paper explores the paradox of compassionate work by examining what interactions contribute to compassion satisfaction and what interactions contribute to compassion fatigue.

Design: This mixed-methods, cross-sectional study uses qualitative interview data from animal health care providers (N = 20) to identify work interactions that they find satisfying or stressful. Quantitative survey data (N = 572) are used to test hypotheses generated from the interviews regarding predictors of compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue.

Methods: Interview transcripts were analyzed using a directed content analysis approach. Survey data were analyzed using ordinary least squares regression.

Results: The results highlight the complex nature of compassionate work. As hypothesized, making a difference to animals and building relationships with animal patients and human clients relate to greater compassion satisfaction. Human client barriers to animal care and witnessing client grief relate to greater compassion fatigue, as predicted. None of the predictors relate to less compassion fatigue, but forming relationships with animal patients relates to both greater compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue.

Conclusions: This paper enhances our understanding of provider-client-patient interactions and highlights the paradox of compassionate work.

Keywords: Compassionate work; compassion fatigue; compassion satisfaction; mixed-methods research; provider–client–patient interactions; veterinary medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Animal Technicians / psychology*
  • Animal Technicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Compassion Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Compassion Fatigue / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Male
  • Veterinarians / psychology*
  • Veterinarians / statistics & numerical data