CanMEDS Professional
Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue


Compassion fatigue is a distinct phenomenon often seen in people who work in the helping professions; people who are entrusted to help others help themselves.  In the face of many adversities, this work is challenging and at times exhausting whether you are a fire fighter or work in an animal shelter chronic confrontation with suffering exacts a toll.

One’s ability to feel compassion, to be patient-centred, to be empathic is also our professions’ greatest vulnerability.  This connection to patients can sometimes give rise to a variety of complex emotions.

Compassion fatigue comes from the same place as satisfaction but it taps us out - the provisions of care, doing battle with the system, trying to work with colleagues, and a lack of congruence between our work and our beliefs about ourselves and our desire for altruism. Trauma or the exposure to the trauma of others and burn out lead us to compassion fatigue. Within compassion fatigue we can look for elements of burnout and secondary traumatic stress (STS).[3]



Altruism can override compassion fatigue.





What is altruism?


How do you foster and maintain altruism?


How can your education and the 'medical system' help you to foster and maintain altruism?



Compassion fatigue is defined as " a state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it is traumatizing for the helper." [1]



1. Figley, C.R. (Ed.) (1995). Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. An Overview. 1-20.

3. Content in this section from the ProQoL website:

All references for this section