Compassion fatigue, moral distress, and work engagement in surgical intensive care unit trauma nurses: a pilot study.

Research paper by Virginia M VM Mason, Gail G Leslie, Kathleen K Clark, Pat P Lyons, Erica E Walke, Christina C Butler, Martha M Griffin

Indexed on: 05 Jun '14Published on: 05 Jun '14Published in: Dimensions of critical care nursing : DCCN


Preparation for replacing the large proportion of staff nurses reaching retirement age in the next few decades in the United States is essential to continue delivering high-quality nursing care and improving patient outcomes. Retaining experienced critical care nurses is imperative to successfully implementing the orientation of new inexperienced critical care nurses. It is important to understand factors that affect work engagement to develop strategies that enhance nurse retention and improve the quality of patient care. Nurses' experience of moral distress has been measured in medical intensive care units but not in surgical trauma care units, where nurses are exposed to patients and families faced with sudden life-threatening, life-changing patient consequences.This pilot study is a nonexperimental, descriptive, correlational design to examine the effect of compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, moral distress, and level of nursing education on critical care nurses' work engagement. This is a partial replication of Lawrence's dissertation. The study also asked nurses to describe sources of moral distress and self-care strategies for coping with stress. This was used to identify qualitative themes about the nurse experiences. Jean Watson's theory of human caring serves as a framework to bring meaning and focus to the nursing-patient caring relationship.A convenience sample of 26 of 34 eligible experienced surgical intensive care unit trauma nurses responded to this survey, indicating a 77% response rate. Twenty-seven percent of the nurses scored high, and 73% scored average on compassion satisfaction. On compassion fatigue, 58% scored average on burnout and 42% scored low. On the secondary traumatic stress subscale, 38% scored average, and 62% scored low. The mean moral distress situations subscale score was 3.4, which is elevated. The mean 9-item Utrecht Work Engagement Scale total score, measuring work engagement, was 3.8, which is considered low.Content analysis was used to identify themes of Role Conflict With Management/Rules, Death and Suffering, Dealing With Violence in the Intensive Care Unit, Dealing With Family, Powerlessness, Physical Distress, and Medical Versus Nursing Values. Additional themes identified were caring, helping families, long-time interdependent relationships of colleagues, and satisfaction in trauma nursing.As work engagement increased, compassion satisfaction significantly increased, and burnout significantly decreased. Results of this study support moral distress as a clinically meaningful issue for surgical intensive care unit nurses. Moral distress scales were elevated, whereas work engagement scales were low. This finding was congruent with Lawrence's study and may reflect ongoing need for greater supports for experienced intensive care unit nurses, from both education and management. Future recommendations for research include examining the interaction of these variables in larger samples to examine additional explanatory factors as well as strategies for self-care, motivation, and behavior change.