DOCTALK 2021 - Volume 8 Issue 4
 December 2021

By Brenda Senger, Physician Health Program Director, Saskatchewan Medical Association

Compassion Fatigue

As the pandemic drags on and physicians remain at the front lines dealing with the disease and people it has affected, it seems timely to talk about the human cost of providing care.

Burnout results from our interactions with work. But compassion fatigue results from our interactions and relationships with the patients we provide care to and the colleagues we support. Providing patients the amount of emotional support they need, witnessing the ravages of this disease on them, seeing their pain (and at times the pain we have to inflict during their care) and the emotional impact on their families, can begin to take a toll on us. When is the last time you had a conversation with a colleague that wasn’t about COVID 19?

What does compassion fatigue look like?

  • Cognitive: perfectionism, preoccupation with trauma, spacing out, self-doubt, intrusive thoughts
  • Emotional: sadness, grief (for what we’ve lost and for what we’ve been through), anger, guilt, anxiety, irritability, dread
  • Behavioral: sleep disturbance, nightmares, withdrawal, impatience, hypervigilance, decreased empathy, avoidance
  • Physical: somatic complaints
  • Relational: withdrawal, mistrust, overprotectiveness, loneliness
  • Spiritual: loss of purpose/meaning, lack of satisfaction

What to do?

     1) Understand the impact of our work on us – increase our self-awareness

     2) Remember & reconnect with purpose      

  • Set boundaries at work & at home
  • Refuel – time away from work, activities that connect us with joy
  • Self-care strategies:
    • Physical – eat, sleep, exercise, medical care for ourselves
    • Emotional – self-reflect, manage stress, reframing, faith
    • Social – connect with friends, family
    • Workplace – connect with trusted others, challenge old medical culture beliefs, advocate for a healthy work environment
    • Permission to ask for help/support if we are struggling.

Are you experiencing clinical stress? Measure and see using the Index of Clinical Stress


  Stress is inevitable. Struggling is optional.

If you are a physician struggling with mental health concerns, please know there is a safe, confidential place for you to contact.

Call the Physician Health Program at the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

Brenda Senger
  Jessica Richardson
Clinical Coordinator (Regina/South)