Empathy burnout in health professionals

The deterioration of the mental health of health workers

The mental health of health professionals in medical centers is constantly threatened by the implications of medical care, the growing demand in handling highly stressful, emotionally demanding or traumatic situations (accompaniment and intervention with patients in terminal or borderline situations, victims of violence or disasters, among others) and the clinical circumstances in which they develop, which can generate alterations at a psychological level, and therefore, transformations in other scenarios or areas of people's functioning, such as work or social, impacting, for example, the quality of care services in medical centers.

Empathy Fatigue syndrome:

Such psychological discomfort can lead to Empathy Fatigue syndrome, also called Vicarious Traumatization or Secondary Traumatic Stress that especially affects professionals who work with human suffering, such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers or rescue personnel, since empathy is a tool they use in their work, given its importance with traumatized people or in situations of pain (Showalter, 2010). This phenomenon is defined as a state of exhaustion and alteration at a biological, psychological and social level, which occurs as a result of prolonged experience of compassionate stress situations and continuous contact with patients in circumstances that threaten their life or that of others.

Risk factor's:

Some of the risk factors pointed out by the specialized literature (O'Mahony, et al., 2018) are closely related to long working hours, increased assistance to victims or people with untreatable diseases, exposure to deaths sudden, the assistant's cognitive schemas, experience with similar situations in the past, personality traits (such as neuroticism), the chronicity of potentially traumatic events and even high levels of empathy, since it has been shown that nurses who are overly empathic with their patients are at increased risk of compassion fatigue.

depression, post-traumatic stress disorder:

In addition, García (2017) points out a higher risk of suffering from Empathy due to Weariness when the professionals who provide assistance have diagnoses of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, economic difficulties, somatizations of stress and a tendency to meet the needs of those affected by sacrificing their own well-being. , being the emotional state an important determinant, as well as the psychosocial support provided to families and patients in critical situations. These circumstances, according to Navarro, López & Climent (2018), make health professionals more likely to suffer high levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and suffering, as well as alterations in health, in the perception of well-being and professional performance. .


Kapoulitsas & Corcoran (2015), describe the consequences that this phenomenon generates in the life of the professional in cognitive, emotional, behavioral and somatic terms. The cognitive ones can include alterations in concentration, apathy, minimization and little or no concern in the face of stressful events of clients or patients; the emotional ones have to do with feelings of helplessness, anger, guilt, depression, distressing dreams and irritability. Somatic sequelae include sweating, changes in heart rate, and dizziness, following continued exposure to other people's traumatic or potentially traumatic events.