Stress and compassion fatigue in veterinary nurses in New Zealand

02 February 2020
9 mins read
Volume 11 · Issue 1



Stress and compassion fatigue are widely acknowledged as prevalent in workers in ‘caring’ roles, however this has not been widely documented in New Zealand veterinary nurses.


This project aimed to investigate the prevalence of stress and compassion fatigue in New Zealand veterinary nurses.


Using an online survey, veterinary nurses were asked to self-report their incidence of stress or compassion fatigue felt as a result of their working environment. Veterinary nurses were also asked to report the ways in which they cope with stress and compassion fatigue, and their likelihood of changing jobs.


There were 288 responses to the survey. Of these, 94% of respondents reported feeling stressed and 82% reported experiencing compassion fatigue as a result of their work. 30% of respondents reported an increase in the consumption of alcohol/cigarettes and drugs as a result of stress. Most respondents reported managing their stress and compassion fatigue by talking to colleagues or family. A large number of respondents reported having considered a career change at some stage due to stress or compassion fatigue.


This research demonstrates a high incidence of stress and compassion fatigue in New Zealand veterinary nurses, with a low percentage of those seeking professional support. Further investigation into combatable causal factors for stress as it differs from compassion fatigue is warranted to ultimately offer support to veterinary nurses to continue their vocation.

Over the past two decades, the influence of ‘stress’ has been extensively studied in doctors and nurses within the human healthcare system (Galantino et al, 2005; Ogińska-Bulik, 2006). The effect of ‘stress’ has also been acknowledged in similar animal-related professions such as veterinarians and veterinary nurses (Huggard and Huggard, 2008). The term ‘stress’ refers to ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’ (Lexico, n.d). Burnout, a form of stress, is a consequence of job stress such as conflict between roles, lack of expectations, or overload (Rizzo et al, 1970). This causes emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and low personal accomplishment (Schaufeli et al, 1996). More recently, burnout caused by giving constant care to those with pain, trauma and suffering has resulted in a new term, ‘compassion fatigue’. This is used to describe human healthcare and veterinary care workers who have lost their ability to ‘nurture’ (Coetzee and Klopper, 2010). This can lead to workers being ineffective, apathetic, and depressed (Joinson, 1992). In the veterinary clinic setting, compassion fatigue is the emotional exhaustion from exposure to traumatic situations such as managing animal abuse cases, assisting with euthanasia or severe injury, and talking to clients or colleagues about patients (Overfield, 2012).

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting The Veterinary Nurse and reading some of our peer-reviewed content for veterinary professionals. To continue reading this article, please register today.