Oncology nurses are generally compassionate people and dedicated to helping others live the best they can while experiencing a life-changing illness. Over time, such dedication can lead to compassion fatigue (CF), especially when others suffer.

Trauma experts define CF as sustained knowledge that another person is suffering and wanting to do something to relieve their suffering. Compassion satisfaction (CS) on the other hand involves the personal gratification one receives from caregiving. Although CF and CS are not direct opposites, the two concepts have a definite relationship. Nurses have a good chance of warding off CF by nourishing CS.

What Research Tells Us

Several scales are available for use in detecting levels of compassion. The Professional Quality of Life Scale is a validated tool that has been used in multiple studies. Data confirm that high CS scores correlate with low scores related to CF. The tool lists negative and positive aspects of compassionate care. Questions about feelings and behaviors can help nurses evaluate how they perceive their job and how it is affecting their work and personal life.

Results from a study of mental health professionals indicated that lower levels of CF and higher levels of CS were prevalent among those professionals who practiced self-care strategies.

Positive intent is a self-care strategy that has the potential to influence overall well-being. One way to set your intention for the day is by practicing a loving kindness (metta) meditation. This can be done before you leave home and just prior to meeting with any person you encounter at work and throughout your day. This technique works with people you don’t know and people you are familiar with.

How to Practice

Metta meditation begins by showing loving kindness to yourself. It is as simple as repeating the following mantra out loud or silently to yourself.

May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.

After focusing loving kindness toward yourself, send your intention outward by repeating:

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.

Hearing your own voice sends a powerful message, but chanting a mantra while at work may be awkward. Aloud or silent, setting your intention to help yourself and those you care for be at peace, can boost your compassion and potentially lead to a positive experience at work.

Learn more about meditation and listen to Tara Brach, PhD, present an audio version of this loving kindness meditation.