National Academy of Medicine

Burnout, Stress, and Compassion Fatigue in Occupational Therapy Practice and Education: A Call for Mindful, Self-Care Protocols

By Emily Zeman and Neil Harvison
March 24, 2017 | Commentary

TW: suicide

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Now more than ever is the time for occupational therapy educators, students, and practitioners to invest in strategies to combat burnout and stress. Current health care practice requires occupational therapy practitioners to manage many dimensions of patient care. Combining professional and educational duties with the emotional energy required for patient encounters and managing one’s personal life can create the potential for burnout and compassion fatigue and an imbalanced professional quality of life. Yuen (1990) called upon occupational therapy fieldwork educators to put more time in their formal training toward teaching experiences with their students, and to recognize potential for burnout by increasing self-awareness.

Assuming the role of teacher and mentor to a fieldwork student, while simultaneously managing one’s caseload, adds to this potential stress. In entering this collaborative and didactic relationship, occupational therapy practitioners are called upon to offer mindful, compassionate care and their full empathic engagement in every patient or student interaction, drawing from a source of wellness, strength, resilience, and presence. Stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout may decrease therapist satisfaction with work and affect in-the-moment attention in patient and student encounters. A lack of attentive presence negatively affects patient-centered care, student’s learning, and workplace or school morale, and it leads to an increase in staff turnover and absenteeism. The trickle-down effect may contribute to decreased patient outcomes and decreased patient satisfaction with care received. Students may report decreased satisfaction with their educational experiences. Treatment and documentation errors increase while time and energy resources for patients and students fall.


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Suggested Citation

Zeman, E. and N. Harvison. 2017. Burnout, Stress, and Compassion Fatigue in Occupational Therapy Practice and Education: A Call for Mindful Self-Care Protocols. NAM Perspectives. Commentary, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201703g


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). The paper is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It is not a report of the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.