Critical care nurses face a challenge in balancing the satisfaction of providing quality care to patients and their families with fatigue and stresses on their own quality of life. According to an article in the August issue of Critical Care Nurse, understanding the demographic and organizational factors related to nurses’ professional quality of life can help educators and healthcare leaders develop effective work environment interventions.
In “Compassion Satisfaction and Compassion Fatigue Among Critical Care Nurses,” lead author Tara Sacco, MS, RN, CCRN, AGCNS-BC, ACCNS-AG, and her team describe the demographic, unit and organizational factors that may contribute to nurses’ professional quality of life. The article also discusses the prevalence of satisfaction and fatigue in adult, pediatric and neonatal critical care nurses.
Critical care nurses at a western New York academic medical center were surveyed using a demographic questionnaire and the Professional Quality of Life Scale to measure levels of compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction, according to the article. A total of 221 nurses from nine units responded to the cross-sectional survey, which examined levels of compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress.
“Although nurses obtain professional satisfaction from their work, repeated exposure to the aftermath of critical illness puts them at high risk for compassion fatigue,” Sacco, visiting assistant professor at St. John Fisher College, Wegman School of Nursing, and a clinical nurse specialist at University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y., said in a news release. “Our findings provide a snapshot into issues related to nurses’ professional quality of life, with implications for efforts to create healthy work environments.”
Critical care nurses scored within the average range for all three areas (compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress), and differences in scores among units were not significant.
From an organizational perspective, this finding indicates the current work environment appears to vary dramatically based on several factors, and interventions can focus on increasing levels of satisfaction rather than preventing compassion fatigue, according to the release.
The researchers examined several organizational factors that affect professional quality of life, such as changes in management or organizational structure.
• Nurses who had a recent change in management had significantly lower mean compassion satisfaction scores, suggesting that units with a stable leadership structure have an environment more supportive of compassion satisfaction.
• Respondents who experienced a recent unit redesign scored higher on the secondary traumatic stress scale, suggesting that an evolving work environment places nurses at higher risk for compassion fatigue.
“Nurse leaders would be smart to implement support systems to guide staff through systems or practice change, such as a unit redesign,” Sacco said in the release. “Our findings can be used to implement changes to improve the work environment with a culture of caring, recognition, professional development and debriefing.”
The research team also found significant differences on the basis of sex, age, educational level, patient acuity, change in nursing management and major systems change.
• Female nurses reported significantly higher compassion satisfaction than did male nurses.
• Nurses working on single-acuity units had significantly higher compassion satisfaction than those on mixed-acuity units.
• High levels of compassion satisfaction were more likely among nurses with an associate’s degree or a master’s degree than among nurses with a bachelor’s degree.
• Nurses 40-49 years old and nurses working on mixed-acuity units had significantly higher burnout and higher secondary traumatic stress scores.
Of the individual demographic factors examined, the most striking finding suggested that nurses’ age has a great impact on their professional quality of life. Specifically, nurses 50 years or older scored higher on the compassion satisfaction scale and lower on the burnout and secondary traumatic stress scale than their younger counterparts.
“More professional and life experience may contribute to older nurses being better prepared to cope with the challenges of critical care nursing,” Sacco said.
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