Relationships between nurses' empathy, self-compassion and dimensions of professional quality of life: A cross-sectional study

Joana Duarte, José Pinto-Gouveia, Bárbara Cruz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Job stress and burnout are common among healthcare professionals, and nurses in particular. In addition to the heavy workload and lack of recourses, nurses are also confronted with emotionally intense situations associated with illness and suffering, which require empathic abilities. Although empathy is one of the core values in nursing, if not properly balanced it can also have detrimental consequences, such as compassion fatigue. Self-compassion, on the other hand, has been shown to be a protective factor for a wide range of well-being indicators and has been associated with compassion for others. Objectives: The main goal of this study was to explore how empathy and self-compassion related to professional quality of life (compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue and burnout). In addition, we wanted to test whether self-compassion may be a protective factor for the impact of empathy on compassion fatigue. Methods and participants: Using a cross-sectional design, 280 registered nurses from public hospitals in Portugal's north and center region were surveyed. Professional quality of life (Professional Quality of Life), empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index) and self-compassion (Self-compassion Scale) were measured using validated self-report measures. Results: Correlations and regression analyses showed that empathy and self-compassion predicted the three aspects of professional quality of life. Empathic concern was positively associated with compassion satisfaction as well as with compassion fatigue. Mediation models suggested that the negative components of self-compassion explain some of these effects, and self-kindness and common humanity were significant moderators. The same results were found for the association between personal distress and compassion fatigue. Conclusions: High levels of affective empathy may be a risk factor for compassion fatigue, whereas self-compassion might be protective. Teaching self-compassion and self-care skills may be an important feature in interventions that aim to reduce burnout and compassion fatigue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the institutional boards for approving the recruitment of participants in their hospitals. Conflict of interest. None declared. Funding. The research was supported by the first author's Ph.D. Grant (SFRH/BD/81416/2011), sponsored by FCT (Foundation for Science and Technology), Portugal, and co–sponsored by ESF (European Social Fund), Belgium, through Portuguese POPH (Human Potential Operational Program). The funding source had no involvement in any stage of study's design, data collection and analysis, and decision to submit the article for publication. Ethical approval. This study was approved by several public hospitals, namely Centro Hospitalar de Entre o Vouga e o Douro, Centro Hospitalar do Baixo Vouga, IPO (Porto), Hospital Distrital da Figueira da Foz.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology

Free keywords

  • Compassion fatigue
  • Empathy
  • Nurses
  • Professional quality of life
  • Self-compassion


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