Quantifying Compassion Fatigue in Ancillary and Clinical Staff in an Adult Emergency Department

West J Emerg Med. 2022 Oct 18;23(6):841-845. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2022.8.57733.


Introduction: Emergency department (ED) staff are at a high risk for compassion fatigue (CF) due to a work environment that combines high patient acuity, violence, and other workplace stressors. This multifaceted syndrome has wide-ranging impacts which, if left untreated, can lead to adverse mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. However, the majority of studies examining CF look solely at clinicians; as a result, there is little information on the impact of CF across other roles involved in supporting patient care. We conducted this study to establish the prevalence of CF across both clinical and non-clinical roles in the adult ED setting.

Methods: For this single institution, cross-sectional study, all full- and part-time ED staff members who worked at least 50% of their shifts in the ED or within the adult trauma service line were eligible to participate. Using the Professional Quality of Life Scale, which measures CF via compassion satisfaction (CS), burnout (BO), and secondary traumatic stress (STS), we assessed for group differences between roles using non-parametric one-way ANOVA.

Results: A total of 152 participants (response rate = 38.0%) completed the survey. This included attending physicians (n = 15, 9.7%), resident/fellow physicians (n = 23, 15.1%), staff nurses (n = 54, 35.5%), emergency technicians (n = 21, 13.8%), supportive clinical staff (n = 28, 18.4%), and supportive ancillary staff (n = 11, 7.2%). Across all roles, the majority of respondents had average levels of BO (median = 25.0, interquartile range [IQR] 20.0-29.0) and STS (median = 23.0, IQR 18.0-27.0) coupled with high levels of CS (median = 38.0, IQR 33.0-43.0). There was a difference in CS by role (P = .01), with nurses reporting lower CS than attending physicians. Secondary traumatic stress also differed by role (P = .01), with attending physicians reporting lower STS than both emergency technicians and nurses. Group differences were not seen in BO.

Conclusions: Rates of compassion fatigue subcomponents were similar across all ED team members, including non-clinical staff. Programs to identify and mitigate CF should be implemented and extended to all roles within the ED.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional* / psychology
  • Compassion Fatigue* / epidemiology
  • Compassion Fatigue* / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life