Compassion Fatigue

None of us in the veterinary profession is immune to compassion fatigue. Enid Traisman, CT, MSW, gives some simple tips to help recognize the symptoms of compassion fatigue and what to do to keep it at bay.

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Did you know that caring too much can hurt? When veterinary staff members are exposed to others pain, they can succumb to symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can affect those emotionally influenced by the trauma of another being.

We know that our staff is at risk due to the cases that come to our hospital—severely injured and acutely sick pets, some of whom are stray or have owners that can not afford treatment and tragically must be euthanized even though they are medically treatable. One of my roles at DoveLewis is to help our staff recognize and combat compassion fatigue.

We value our staff and do not want to see them suffer emotionally, experience burnout and/or leave the profession. In 2002, I completed a 60 hour, three–part intensive training co–sponsored by the University of Florida and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). I am a certified compassion fatigue specialist. I use this expertise to provide informative presentations, relevant worksheets and ongoing individual support around compassion fatigue issues and concerns for our hospital staff. Monthly art therapy is an additional tool I use to help our staff stay resilient and heal from stress.

I would like to direct you to a great tool that can help you determine if you might be suffering from compassion fatigue or are at risk for burnout. Go to this website and take this self–administered test called the Professional Qualify of Life Scale: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Subscales–Revision IV (ProQOL). It is available free online at:

The ProQOL is a valuable tool for you to complete in private that can give you some unbiased feedback about how you are doing in your career. The results may motivate you to do something now about your own self care.

Early recognition and awareness is crucial in being able to be resilient to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is treatable! Keeping your life in balance or getting it back in balance and enhancing your self–care are critical techniques. Keeping your body and your health in good shape is essential. You are not going to be resilient if you are not well rested. If you are eating poorly and not exercising you are more vulnerable physically and emotionally to the effects of distress. Therefore, keeping a healthy balance in your life is a requirement to prevent and treat compassion fatigue. Caregivers that have a structured schedule that allow them time to organize and do good self–care are more resilient ¹.

If you already have symptoms of compassion fatigue consider these tools:

  • Be kind to yourself and have a recognition and awareness of your symptoms.
  • Educate yourself about compassion fatigue. There is an abundance of good information available on the web.
  • Restore a healthy balance in your life including good sleep, good nutrition, hobbies and exercise.
  • Utilize your positive supportive connections with others to process your feelings with these people who can validate you.
  • Implement regular mini–escapes in your life like recreation, creative therapies or other healthy diversions from the intensity of your work.
  • Don’t medicate yourself with drugs or alcohol and don’t use other self–defeating addictions. Get professional help for yourself if needed to get back on track.

Paw print and pet dog picture frame

To be resilient you need to have good support and connections with others. Diversions and recreation that allow you to take mini–escapes from the intensity of your work is absolutely essential—not optional as some may think. Finding inner peace, preventing, coping with and healing compassion fatigue is not a once and done activity. It’s not a finite project like building a house. It’s more like the ongoing creation of a garden. It’s never done. It requires ongoing attention.

Unrecognized and untreated compassion fatigue causes people to leave their profession. It is important that we all understand this phenomenon for our own well–being, but also for our colleagues and the animals that need our expertise and care. If you notice colleagues in distress, reach out to them. Give them this article and let them know you care and are available to talk if they need.

Most people never take the time to understand how their jobs affect them emotionally. Give yourself credit for moving forward and affecting change. Your hard work will pay off.

Understanding and Preventing Compassion Fatigue—A Handout–For Professionals by Angie Panos, 2007

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kamille worley's picture

This is an excellent article and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Unless you've seen it first hand, most people probably wouldn't even think about compassion fatigue. Self awareness is key.

Emily Cunningham's picture

This is very good as I am currently feeling a few of these issues to the point where I do feel like leaving the profession.

Cassie Blair's picture

I enjoyed this article. I have a question. How does one become a compassion fatigue specialist.

Rachel Medo's picture

Hi Cassie,

I reached out to Enid here at DoveLewis with your question, and have posted her response below. Please let us know if you have any further questions! :)

Dear Cassie,

I am glad that you enjoyed this article. This is such an important topic in the veterinary field. When I received my certification in 2003, it was the first time the training was officially being offered for animal care workers. The training was sponsored by Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society University. This was a multi-part training over the period of one year. I found it very informative and eye opening.

In the past 13+ years since, a variety of training opportunities have become available. There are also many articles available online as well as informative books. Here is a list of 3 certification programs that are presently available.

Best of wishes pursuing your specialization in compassion fatigue. - Enid