Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Compassion Fatigue is Similar in Emergency Medicine Residents Compared to other Medical and Surgical Specialties


Introduction: Compassion fatigue (CF) is the emotional and physical burden felt by those helping others in distress, leading to a reduced capacity and interest in being empathetic towards future suffering. Emergency care providers are at an increased risk of CF secondary to their first responder roles and exposure to traumatic events. We aimed to investigate the current state of compassion fatigue among emergency medicine (EM) resident physicians, including an assessment of contributing factors.

Methods: We distributed a validated electronic questionnaire consisting of the Professional Quality of Life Scale with subscales for the three components of CF (compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress), with each category scored independently. We collected data pertaining to day- versus night-shift distribution, hourly workload and child dependents. We included residents in EM, neurology, orthopedics, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, and general surgery.

Results: We surveyed 255 residents, with a response rate of 75%. Of the 188 resident respondents, 18% worked a majority of their clinical shifts overnight, and 32% had child dependents. Burnout scores for residents who worked greater than 80 hours per week, or primarily worked overnight shifts, were higher than residents who worked less than 80 hours (mean score 25.0 vs 21.5; p=0.013), or did not work overnight (mean score 23.5 vs 21.3; p=0.022).  EM residents had similar scores in all three components of CF when compared to other specialties. Secondary traumatic stress scores for residents who worked greater than 80 hours were higher than residents who worked less than 80 hours (mean score 22.2 vs 19.5; p=0.048), and those with child dependents had higher secondary traumatic stress than those without children (mean score 21.0 vs 19.1; p=0.012).

Conclusion: CF scores in EM residents are similar to residents in other surgical and medical specialties. Residents working primarily night shifts and those working more than 80 hours per week appear to be at high risk of developing compassion fatigue. Residents with children are more likely to experience secondary traumatic stress. [West J Emerg Med. 2014;15(6):–0]


Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View