Compassion and empathy are viewed as important by both nurses and patients. The positive emotions that nurses feel as a result of compassionate and empathic practice are known as compassion satisfaction, whilst the negative consequences are known as burnout and compassion fatigue. Empathy has two distinct components: emotional empathy, which involves feeling the emotions of another, and cognitive empathy, which relates to self-regulation of the emotion felt. The purpose of this literature review is to examine the relationship between burnout and empathy in the nursing literature. The results suggest that the relationship between these constructs is complex, and an ability to self-regulate emotions during empathic engagement may reduce the risk of burnout. The implications for nurses, health care organisations, educators and health care policy makers are discussed. This review provides insight into how adaptive empathic engagement may reduce the risk of burnout.