ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA—Burnout was reduced and secondary trauma improved by a 6-week initiative to prevent compassion fatigue. This program was presented at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress.

Most oncology nurses deal with burnout or compassion fatigue at some point in their careers. It can result in job turnover, absenteeism, and illness. Exposure to the continuous emotional conditions in the oncology research environment evokes this secondary trauma. Nurses experiencing compassion fatigue may be irritable and have poor attitudes and depression.

Jenny Sliheet, RN, BSN, and colleagues at The Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center in Dallas, Texas, created a Compassion Fatigue Initiative program to help nurses at the facility address their compassion fatigue. The Center identified objectives, staff participation, and emotional stressors. The program sought to help individual staff members incorporate techniques to recognize destructive attitudes, identify healthy coping behaviors, and provide appropriate tools. A professional psychologist was available to assist the group with achieving these objectives.

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The initiative consisted of six weekly, 1-hour sessions. The sessions began with a relaxation exercise; then the participants had an interactive dialogue in which they reviewed the previous week’s events, highlighting how their recently learned strategies were implemented. The group discussed compassion fatigue, effective communication, trigger emotions, balance management, grieving, death and dying, and coping strategies.

Additional exercises for home aimed to cultivate a positive outlook on life by reviewing daily blessings, identifying trigger emotions, and journaling. Each weekly session ended with notes of affirmation and appreciation to the other participants. The participants completed a questionnaire on professional quality of life at baseline, at the end of the sixth session, and 3 months after the last class.

Outcomes were measured using a professional quality of life (ProQOL) questionnaire. The baseline ProQOL questionnaire indicated that compassion satisfaction score (CSS), burnout score (BOS), and secondary trauma stress (STS) were all high. All scores were lower at the end of the program. Results of the 3-month follow-up questionnaires showed that STS was even lower in the group; however, CSS and BOS were high again. Overall, the participants were satisfied with the content of the classes, and reported an improved ability to recognize trigger emotions and other stressors and to respond appropriately.


Sliheet J, Adams N, Bedell C. Remembering the “mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee” concept: a new approach to combatting burnout and compassion fatigue. Presented at: Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress; May 1-4, 2014; Anaheim, CA.

Prepared by Kathy Boltz, PhD, and Joyce Pagán