Three tips to avoiding personal compassion fatigue


Not sleeping well? Feeling abnormally emotional? Job satisfaction low? Mentally and physically drained when you get home from work? If you relate to any, or all of these, then you are likely experiencing compassion fatigue. As veterinary professionals, we are constantly exposed to traumatic events. If you feel that you may be experiencing compassion fatigue, it is important to make sure we are on the same page as to what it really is.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

People often use the terms Compassion fatigue and burnout interchangeably, but they are not the same. While they can have similar symptoms, and can occur in parallel, they have different causes. Decreased job satisfaction can cause burnout. Some causes of burnout are: unclear job responsibilities, unreasonable expectations, lack of leadership or conflict with co-workers. Burnout also tends to emerge over time. However, compassion fatigue has a more rapid onset. Caring for those that are suffering from a traumatic event can cause Compassion Fatigue. It is often referred to as Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) (

Every position within a Veterinary Hospital supports others during a traumatic event. This could be a receptionist talking on the phone to a client who just witnessed their dog get hit by a car. Or it could be a practice manager discussing a traumatic event with a staff member. In the healthcare field, there is no avoiding compassion fatigue. Rather than finding ways to prevent it, we should find ways to anticipate and manage it. The first step in anticipating something is to understand what it is, which I just described. Following are 3 tips to further anticipate and manage your compassion fatigue.

3 Tips to Anticipate and Manage Compassion Fatigue

  1. Increase Your Awareness: This is the key to any change that you want to make. Once individuals begin to increase awareness, they typically start being aware of Compassion Fatigue after it starts to impact them. This level of awareness is a great start. However, in order to minimize the impact of Compassion Fatigue you must reach a point where you can identify your personal stressors in the moment, and implement your individualized treatment plan.
  2. Set Boundaries: As a profession, this is something that everyone could do much better. Do you find yourself sitting at home wondering how the patient in the ICU is doing? Do you find yourself checking your email constantly? Texting your co-workers to talk about work or check in on patients? If so, you need to start drawing some lines in the sand. Find things that impact you or your family and generate ideas on how you can minimize them.
  3. Find Your Balance: Work-Life balance is a term that we often use in the Veterinary field. When you think about your personal balance, what does that mean? Everyone has a different interpretation of balance in their lives. To one person it may be important that their life outweighs their work; or that they are positively unbalanced. To others it may be less important that their scale is as heavy on the life side. Understanding what your definition of balance is, is important in finding work-life balance.

Anticipating and managing compassion fatigue is a process. This process is not just the responsibility of the employee. There are steps that a clinic should take to help structure a “Compassion Fatigue Free Workplace” also. These steps will be discussed in the next blog on Compassion Fatigue.

Foremost, you have to take care of yourself first before focusing on taking care of others. Or, in the words of the flight attendants, “Please secure your oxygen mask before helping others.”

Originally published on Republished with permission of Brenda Tassava.