Today, I will be talking about grief but from a different perspective. Grief has been mostly studied through the eyes of the patient and its family, friends and relatives, but research shows that grief goes beyond such cohort. Nursing professionals are at risk of burn out and compassion fatigue if the grief is not addressed professionally and efficiently. Recently, light has been thrown at this area and studies show that nurses who work closely with dying patients do suffer from burn out.

Such nurses specialisations are; oncology nurses, ICU nurses, emergency nurses, palliative nurses and so on. Throughout this series of blogs I will talk about oncology nurses specifically. On a typical shift, the nursing role goes beyond administering IV drips and cleaning wounds. It involves daily contact with the patients, building of relationships through communication, delivering good and bad news, listening to the patient’s fears and troubles, making sure the patient feels comfortable and other demands that occur uniquely to each patient. Apart from attending to the patient’s needs, the nurse needs to mostly often attend to the family of the patient; answering their questions, concerns, toning down medical jargon and maybe offering advice. Not to forget the side of administrative work too; keeping records and updating charts.

Helping others when in need is said to be very rewarding and self-fulfilling, yet its ongoing hectic work leaves its toll too. Witnessing recurrent death simultaneously is both emotionally and physically exhausting. This can be due to the nurse not having ample enough time to process one death or the patient meant a lot for that nurse. These instances mentioned here are benignly harmful. Accumulation of unexpressed grief, fatigue, anger and sadness can all lead to burn out or more specifically, compassion fatigue. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include depersonalisation, overwhelming exhaustion and a sense of lack of self-accomplishment. It is important to monitor such symptoms because if they arise it is salient to seek professional help specifically counselling and therapy.

The aim of this blog was to put the reader in the context, on my next blog I will explore ways of dealing with compassion fatigue.

  • Christina Brown, R. (2009). Oncology nurses’ grief: A literature review. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 13(6), 625.
  • Dereen Houck, R. (2014). Helping nurses cope with grief and compassion fatigue: An educational intervention. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 18(4), 454.


Danica Cassar is a third-year psychology student at the University of Malta. She is the Triage Manager at 

You can visit her profile on: