Date of Award



© 2017 Shantel Sullivan

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Joanne Cooper

Second Advisor

Michelle Collay

Third Advisor

Shelley Cohen Konrad


The primary purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the experience of compassion fatigue among nurse professionals in order to examine natural grieving reactions and how they potentially change nurses’ lives. The focus of this study included nurse professionals working in rural community hospitals in Upstate New York. The nurse professionals in the study were exclusively those who identify and practice as registered nurses (RN). The nurses were asked to share their experiences of repetitive exposure to critical incidents (unexpected outcomes, mass casualties, and/or death of infant/child/young adult). Purposive sampling was utilized as a means to select participants. The researcher collected data by conducting face-to-face interviews with each participant.

Nurses recalled experiences of high stress caregiving were examined as they relate to critical issues of compassion fatigue, also known as vicarious traumatization, or secondary traumatic stress disorder. After interviewing six registered nurses and analyzing the data, six themes emerged: (a) Sometimes We Do Lose People, (b) You Need to Find Something that Works for You, (c) Too Close to Home, (d) I Care, (e) It’s Not a Job, (f) Self-Preservation, and (g) The Role of Hospital Administration. In addition to the six major themes, there were 14 subthemes.

Through this qualitative research, it has become clear to the researcher that nurses make significant sacrifices to ensure the health and well-being of others. They give of themselves to mend the physical, mental, and emotional wounds of others. Nurses need to have support early and often to debrief, share their experiences, connect with their colleagues, and be celebrated for the lifesaving work they do.


Ed.D. Dissertation