Grief over patients, compassion fatigue, and the role of social acknowledgment among psycho-oncologists

Adi Engler-Gross, Gil Goldzweig, Ilanit Hasson-Ohayon, Rony Laor-Maayany, Michal Braun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Compassion fatigue—that is, secondary traumatic stress (STS) and burnout—is a traumatic emotional state experienced by health care providers and expressed in a reduced capacity to be interested in and empathic to the suffering of others. Compassion fatigue may be related to grief over patients' loss. We examined the relation between grief and compassion fatigue among psycho-oncologists while exploring the impact of social acknowledgment on this association. We hypothesized that social acknowledgment would moderate the relation between grief and compassion fatigue. Methods: Participants were 60 Israeli psycho-oncologists in a cross-sectional study. Measures consisted of a demographic questionnaire, the Texas Revised Inventory of Grief-Present, the Social Acknowledgment questionnaire, and the Professional Quality of Life Questionnaire. Results: The participants reported relatively high levels of grief and high levels of compassion fatigue. Grief and compassion fatigue were significantly positively associated (STS: r = 0.41, p < 0.01; Burnout: r = 0.45, p < 0.01). A k-means cluster analysis based on social acknowledgment and grief yielded three meaningful clusters: High Grief-Low Social Acknowledgment; Medium Grief-High Social Acknowledgment; and Low Grief-Medium Social Acknowledgment. Levels of STS in the first cluster were significantly higher in comparison to levels of STS in each of the other clusters (F = 6.22, p < 0.01). Conclusions: Psycho-oncologists experience patient loss as part of their daily work. In response, they may develop grief reactions. This grief, when it is not perceived by them as being socially acknowledged, may result in high levels of STS: a phenomenon with undesirable personal and professional implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-499
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • cancer
  • caregivers
  • compassion fatigue
  • grief
  • oncology
  • professional burnout
  • psycho-oncology
  • social acknowledgment

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Oncology


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