As caregivers in high-pressure environments, critical care nurses are at risk for burnout and secondary trauma—components of compassion fatigue. Recent findings have increased understanding of the phenomena, specifically that satisfaction and meaningful recognition may play a role in reducing burnout and raising compassion satisfaction; however, no large multisite studies of compassion fatigue have been conducted.


To examine the effect of meaningful recognition and other predictors on compassion fatigue in a multicenter national sample of critical care nurses.


A quantitative, descriptive online survey was completed by 726 intensive care unit nurses in 14 hospitals with an established meaningful recognition program and 410 nurses in 10 hospitals without such a program. Site coordinators at each hospital coordinated distribution of the survey to nurses to assess multiple predictors against outcomes, measured by the Professional Quality of Life Scale. Cross-validation and linear regression modeling were conducted to determine significant predictors of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion satisfaction.


Similar levels of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion satisfaction, overall satisfaction, and intent to leave were reported by nurses in hospitals with and without meaningful recognition programs. Meaningful recognition was a significant predictor of decreased burnout and increased compassion satisfaction. Additionally, job satisfaction and job enjoyment were highly predictive of decreased burnout, decreased secondary traumatic stress, and increased compassion satisfaction.


In addition to acknowledging and valuing nurses’ contributions to care, meaningful recognition could reduce burnout and boost compassion satisfaction.

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