Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

How to Mitigate Compassion Fatigue


Prioritizing self-care and making an effort to connect with others may prevent burnout and allow us to continue to give clinically excellent care to patients.

Empathy can help us understand our patients’ experiences and learn what care they may need. Empathy is also therapeutic for patients—feeling understood is a breath of psychological air. However, continually practicing empathy can be strenuous because it exposes you to another’s emotional pain. Regular exposure to trauma can result in compassion fatigue that can interfere with the the ability to empathize.


The difference between burnout and compassion fatigue

There’s overlap between burnout and compassion fatigue. They’re characterized by similar symptoms such as exhaustion, reduced work performance, emotional detachment, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and anxiety. However, they’re different. Burnout results from trying to keep up with excessive work demands, like seeing more patients in condensed time slots, increased documentation requirements, burdensome prior authorization paperwork, and working long hours.  Compassion fatigue results from the strain of feeling another human’s pain and suffering. And it may be on the rise considering the immense psychological and emotional distress that healthcare professionals have been exposed to throughout 2020. This past year has been marred by a traumatic triad of the COVID pandemic, political conflict, and racial injustice.


Mitigating compassion fatigue

Clinicians need access to resources to counter the impact of compassion fatigue, such as programs to educate healthcare professionals about the issue, peer support groups, resources to achieve better work/life balance, and access to mental health treatment. Additionally, here are a few strategies you use on your own to mitigate compassion fatigue:


1. Prioritize self-care.

This is paramount. Remember that you need to take care of yourself to continue to give patients excellent care. It doesn’t have to be time consuming. It can be a 10-minute quiet meditation or a brief journal entry. Such practices will help you be more effective in tackling professional and personal responsibilities.



2. Set boundaries.

Technology has blurred the lines between work and home life. Work-related matters often reach us via email or text message  after-hours. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Boundaries are important to have some control of our lives. They’re an emotional fence with a gate. I don’t practice medicine on the weekends. I love being a psychiatrist. It’s a great privilege to serve my patients. However, I can’t emotionally function as a psychiatrist seven days a week. Be aware of your limitations and honor them.



3. Connect with others.

We’re  social creatures. We’re not meant to be in isolation. We have a need for human connection. Give yourself permission to share your feelings with a trustworthy colleague and connect over shared work experiences. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.


Empathy is an essential component to giving excellent patient care. Routinely practicing the above strategies may prevent us from suffering from compassion fatigue.