It’s no secret that nurses save lives, but in the rush to praise you for your heroism, the world often overlooks the very real toll on your own mental and emotional wellbeing that being asked to save lives day in and day out has. Yes, saving lives can be incredibly rewarding, but the day-to-day demands of your job also leads to high rates of burnout, moral distress, compassion fatigue, grief, and trauma.

    This month, we will explore the impacts of saving lives in greater depth, and next month, we will share methods for coping with the stresses and traumas associated with your job.

    Ways You May Be Affected


    A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that 33% of nurses reported experiencing burnout. Rates were higher among nurses who worked in acute care or emergency settings, where they were more likely to witness traumatic events or experience high levels of stress.

    Burnout is a common issue that nurses face due to the demanding nature of their job. Long hours, understaffing, and a high workload can contribute to feelings of exhaustion, irritability, and anxiety. Nurses may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and insomnia. Understandably, the demands of the job increase when lives hang in the balance, which exacerbates both the likelihood and the severity of burnout. Even the physical demands of performing CPR can increase the likelihood of burnout.

    Compassion Fatigue

    According to a survey by the Emergency Nurses Association, 55% of emergency nurses reported experiencing compassion fatigue.

    Compassion fatigue is a type of burnout that can occur when nurses consistently witness the suffering of their patients and, by extension, their patients’ families. Constant exposure to intense pain and grief can lead to a reduced ability to empathize with others. Nurses experiencing compassion fatigue may feel emotionally exhausted, detached, and cynical. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, and may make it difficult for nurses to connect with patients and their families.

    Moral Distress

    According to a survey by the American Nurses Association, nearly 50% of nurses reported experiencing moral distress in the past year. Moral distress was more common among nurses who worked in critical care, pediatrics, and emergency settings.

    Moral distress occurs when nurses face situations that conflict with their personal values, such as doing no harm. This can include situations where the nurse is unable to provide care due to institutional or personal constraints, especially when that results in the death of a patient. This can cause feelings of guilt, frustration, and powerlessness, and can have a significant impact on the mental health of nurses.


    A study published in the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing found that 73% of hospice and palliative care nurses reported experiencing grief or burnout related to patient deaths.

    The death of a patient can be emotionally devastating for nurses. They may feel a sense of failure, guilt, or grief. Nurses may feel like they could have done more to save the patient, even if the death was unavoidable. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and may contribute to burnout and compassion fatigue.


    A study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing found that 86% of emergency department nurses had experienced at least one traumatic event on the job, and 21% had symptoms of PTSD.

    Nurses are often exposed to traumatic events in their work, from unsuccessful resuscitation attempts to the death of a patient despite their efforts. Even being exposed to the trauma of others can lead to what is known as vicarious trauma, as you empathize with your patients and take on their own traumas. These experiences can have a significant impact on the mental health of nurses, including social withdrawal, decreased work motivation, negative coping skills, and other physical stress-related ailments. In some instances, it can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nurses with PTSD may experience symptoms such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, and hyperarousal.


    In conclusion, the impact of saving lives on nurses can be significant. Compassion fatigue, moral distress, burnout, anxiety, and stress are all common issues that nurses face. They are also exposed to trauma on a regular basis and can experience intense emotions when patients die. It is important for nurses to seek support and engage in self-care to mitigate the psychological toll of their job.

    To learn more coping skills, please check in next month. If you are a Freedom traveler and are experiencing any of the above conditions, please call us and we’ll connect you with one of our dedicated nurse managers to provide the support you need.

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