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Compassion Fatigue in Human and Animal Care: Analytical Essay on Nursing

Many of us only see the surface of saving lives. It is easy to see pride in what professionals in the shelter environment and human care setting do. Often, the wellness of the patients are looked at, but never the well-being of those giving care. Is Compassion Fatigue a real issue in the industry of animal and human care, and how does it affect the professionals in the field? Compassion Fatigue is a progressive medical condition that occurs in the medical field and animal care. This essay will reveal the root of this condition and how Compassion Fatigue in human care compares and contrasts to that in animal care. Studies in the hospital setting and animal medicine will be explored, as well as the animal shelter setting.

Compassion Fatigue is common in veterinary medicine. The American Veterinary Medical Association explains that veterinarians develop stress through their daily interaction with their clients and that they not only feel stress through their animal patients, but they connect their emotions through their clients’ response and emotional struggle. Susan Kahler, a writer for the AVMA, interviewed psychotherapist, Dr. Elizabeth Strand, who is an associate Clinical Professor and Funding Director of the Veterinary Social Work Program at the University of Tennessee. According to Dr. Strand, “Moral stress is the biggest contributor to Compassion Fatigue.” It was a topic she had addressed at the AVMA Humane Endings Symposium in Chicago in 2014. According to Kahler’s article, veterinarians develop stress through daily interaction with their clients. They have to deliver the bad news, as well as handle their most difficult clients. They also must manage unexpected events, and many veterinarians either refuse to perform euthanasia or are forced to perform it even when they do not feel it to be necessary. Veterinarians also tend to attach their emotions to the pet owners. The stress at work also makes it difficult for them to balance their home life. A study mentioned published in the Veterinary Record mentioned in Kahler’s article confirmed that 13% of veterinary students have had seriously considered taking their life and 19% had received a diagnosis of mental illness.

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Dr. Strand’s contribution is still relevant today, as we are at the height of animal rescue and the public is more aware of how animals are treated all over the world. She also mentioned how animal shelter environments affect staff wellness. One of the main causes of Compassion Fatigue in the shelter environment is the “intensity and frequency of euthanasia,” according to Dr. Strand. Staff members also deal with animal cruelty on a regular basis, interacts with the public, as well as conflict in the workplace. These events lead to burnout that then lead to Compassion Fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is a medical condition and common not only in animal medicine and shelter environment but also in human medicine. One particular branch of human medicine that are highly affected by this condition is Oncology. There are compelling cases in Oncology nurses in the United States and Canada. In an article written by Stacey Wu and her team, Compassion Fatigue in the nurses were examined through direct interviews and online surveys. 486 American and 63 Canadian nurses were sampled. Wu and her team used the quantitative method, which used surveys to collect data from qualified individuals working in Oncology. A scoring system was used to compare individual results. Although the study is non-experimental, the study was thorough and properly categorized to produce findings. A few close-ended questions were included in the study. Wu and her team also explained that the root of Compassion Fatigue in Oncology nurses is their relationship with not only their patients but also their patients’ family. This is a great comparison to what causes the stress in veterinarians.

One thing is clear: Compassion Fatigue occurs in medical professionals in both the human and animal environment. Moral stress is the root of it and the emotional attachment that they deal with on a daily basis. Even though these professionals take pride in what they do, their losses and often unexpected cases take a toll emotionally. Veterinarians and shelter staff have committed to saving animals that do not have their own voice, while Oncology nurses dedicate their time to saving those that can express their desire to live.


  1. Kahler, S. (2019, December 17) Moral stress the top trigger in veterinarians’ compassion fatigue. The American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved 10/12/19 from
  2. Wu, S., Singh-Carlson, S., Odell, A., Reynolds, G., and Su, Y. (2015, September 17) Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Compassion Satisfaction Among Oncology Nurses in the United States and Canada. Oncology Nursing Forum. Retrieved 10/12/19 from

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