Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)


Critical care nurses work in a fast-paced and sometimes volatile work environment. Compassion fatigue is a risk that nurses and other helping professionals face. It is a secondary traumatic stress disorder similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, few studies in literature reflect the impact of repeatedly caring for traumatically injured patients. When compassion fatigue strikes, it may affect the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of the individual. Knowing who is at the greatest risk for developing compassion fatigue is only the beginning in prevention within nursing professionals. Current research and literature about compassion fatigue in nursing is limited. Articles by Schwam (1998) and Clark and Gioro (1998) define compassion fatigue. Zimmer and Cabelus (2003) studied the coping mechanisms of nurses frequently exposed to violence, while Maytum, Heiman, and Garwick (2004) explored the types of coping strategies utilized by pediatric nurses in various settings. Jezuit (2002) studied critical care nurses and exposure to suffering patients and end-o f-life situations. Investigations about other professionals and compassion fatigue, burnout and stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder were also reviewed. The Systems Model Theory by Betty Neuman (Neuman & Fawcett, 2002) provided the theoretical framework for this investigation. The theory is based upon the systems of clients maintaining homeostasis. When a registered nurse (RN) repeatedly cares for patients suffering traumatic injuries, the homeostasis or the RN is jeopardized. Critical care nurses at six Rocky Mountain area hospitals participated in this investigation. Three hospitals were classified as level III trauma hospitals, and three were classified as level II trauma hospitals. One hundred and ninety nine nurses completed surveys for this investigation. Of these surveys, 159 were complete and utilized. When comparing compassion fatigue in critical care RNs working in level I trauma hospitals with critical care RNs working in level III trauma hospitals, no statistical significance was shown. Additionally, no significance was shown when comparing critical care RNs working in an ICU with critical care RNs working in an ER. The results of the analysis indicated a strong negative correlation between the years of critical care experience and the risk tor compassion fatigue. No significant correlation between the age of the RN and the risk for compassion fatigue was shown.


Dr. Liane Connelly

Date of Award

Fall 2007

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 2007 Melissa Lynn


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