How I fight compassion fatigue

By Pam Castles, MSN, MASF, RN, Wesley Nurse

When I started working as a Methodist Healthcare Ministries Wesley Nurse in October 2015, I had so many plans for my new ministry, and then God said, "Not so fast." I lost my mother in January and then my father in February. It has been a difficult start to a new job, to say the least, but I've had wonderful support from many team members. I have also been seeing my spiritual director more frequently which has provided the spiritual support that is so necessary when grieving.

My spiritual director and I have talked about many things that play a role in my physical, mental and spiritual health. We've talked about my role as a faith community nurse, the marginalization of the clients we see, and the stress we all experience in this role.

Providing care and compassion has both positive and negative impacts. To repeatedly hear stories about traumatic things happening to people opens our hearts in a way that we can relate to others with empathy, thus allowing us to better offer our knowledge and skills to improve their lives. However, we are also susceptible to trauma that is considered secondary in nature.

Compassion fatigue, the emotional strain that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another, is frequently experienced by those in the caring professions. This secondary traumatization can result from working with patients who for example are experiencing homelessness, physical or emotional abuse, incarceration, and/or terminal illness. It is essential for caregivers to understand that even when you have not experienced loss or personal trauma, the act of caring for others who have puts you at risk for compassion fatigue.

In order to manage compassion fatigue, we must be able to identify the symptoms and causes. Some indicators of compassion fatigue include difficulty sleeping, feeling afraid, feeling a lost sense of self, emotional burnout, isolation, or feeling a reduced sense of personal accomplishment at work. Next, we must be willing to engage in professional and personal practices in which we do things differently. Self-care becomes more than a nice idea; it is an essential tool to perform our jobs as caregivers and compassionate healers. By better understanding the risks of compassion fatigue and how it impacts our professional and personal functioning, we have taken the first steps to experiencing the blessing and joy our work can provide.

Pam Castles, MSN, MASF, RN is a Wesley Nurse at Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Wesley Nurse program is a faith-based, holistic health and wellness program committed to serving the least-served through education, health promotion and collaboration with individuals and communities to achieve improved wellness through self-empowerment. Learn more at