Compassion in nursing is an ethical paradigm that focuses on the role of nurses as providers of moral care. Compassionate care, through its attention to the relief of suffering, holds direct implications for patient-centered care.
Although it has been written about extensively for over two decades, there has not yet been a consensus on what exactly constitutes compassion or on its place within nursing.
It is suggested that compassion can be defined as an open-hearted awareness of suffering, coupled with the desire to relieve it.
Compassion in nursing is concerned with improving patient outcomes by reducing physical and mental distress suffered both by patients and nurses.
Research into the effects of stress on health care workers has led to the development of strategies and training programs to address compassion fatigue.
The goal of such initiatives is to help nurses cope with difficult experiences without compromising patient care or the moral commitment that drives their professional practice.
Caregiver stress is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual response experienced by those providing compassionate care for others.
Stress may be related directly to the experience of providing care or it can be connected to the challenges of being a caregiver.
The subjective nature of the experience of stress leads to some level of caregiver distress, often referred to as “compassion fatigue in nursing”.
See also: Objective vs Subjective Data
Compassion in nursing is founded on the premise that nurses are committed to alleviating suffering and eliminating its causes.
Compassion presupposes that suffering is an undesirable state that can be stopped, decreased, or eliminated.
Compassion in nursing goes further than the ethical principle of avoiding harm and causing good by fostering empathy rather than mere sympathy for patients.
See also: 7 Ethical Principles in Nursing
Compassion also encompasses key psychological processes such as introspection, reflection on experience, imagination, openness to experience, and universalism.
It is further linked to spiritual and religious thought and practices.
Compassion in nursing is associated with humility, patience, love, and empathy: qualities that enable nurses to provide holistic care for patients.
Now that you know the basics about compassion in nursing I recommend that you watch and listen to this TEDx talk by Dr. Gavin Francis.
Dr. Gavin Francis will give you more in-depth knowledge about compassion in medicine and nursing in just under 11 short minutes.
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What is compassion in nursing?
Compassion in nursing is defined as an open-hearted awareness of suffering, coupled with the desire to relieve it.
Compassion may be considered a virtue that fills a human being with a feeling of empathy for those who suffer and whose lives are diminished as a result.
It is a consciousness of the fact that all beings have, without exception, passed through innumerable existences with their share of joy and sorrow.
That they wish to be happy, free from pain and distress.
That they seek pleasure like themselves but that instead, their present conditions expose them to severe privations after having already caused them intense anguish.
Compassion is said to arise when one’s imagination is stirred by another’s suffering or other misfortune.
Compassion is a complex concept that can be “imputed” onto others – a potential source of concern, particularly for nursing theorists.
The term compassion reflects the Latin com (together) and pati (to suffer).
It has analogs in various languages, such as the Greek apatheia, the Hebrew chesed or hesed, and the Sanskrit karuna.
These words do not adequately translate into English.
However, most would agree with Merriam-Webster who defines compassion as:
The feeling that arises when someone else’s suffering is perceived by you to be serious enough so as to call forth similar feelings of urgency within yourself.
Because most English speakers lack an understanding of what exactly it means to feel something because someone else feels it (i.e., empathic understanding), this definition is not particularly helpful.
For example, many would insist on a distinction between sympathy and compassion.
The first designates a feeling of sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, and the second implies a desire to alleviate another’s suffering.
Compassion involves selflessness because one would put aside all desires in order to relieve the distress of another person.
It also implies pushing away one’s ego so as to open up space for caring about another’s well-being.
The act of pulling oneself out of the experience of others’ pain is an agonizing process that requires mental strength and maturity.
According to Merriam-Webster, “compassion” derives from roots meaning “suffering together with another”.
Definition of compassion in nursing
Compassion is a virtue that allows one to feel as another feels and as a result, inspires the nurse to be emotionally available so as to support those who suffer.
Compassion implies having a desire for others’ welfare and acting in ways that promote well-being.
In nursing, compassion involves being aware of another’s suffering, putting aside one’s needs, recognizing the value of all beings (including oneself), making judgments on the basis of action rather than ideology or labels.
It also means working to relieve suffering through direct caregiving, health promotion, and education.
Compassion is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering or distress”.
This definition does not fit into nursing because it is not specific enough and it does not give a clear insight into what compassion actually is.
The National League for Nursing clarifies the term by defining compassion as:
An attribute of people considered to be very humane, kind, and concerned about other living things: the ability to feel concerned for another’s suffering or trouble.
Compassion in nursing encourages mindfulness so that nurses can use their senses to develop an awareness of others’ needs and foster self-awareness within themselves.
To show such kindness requires putting aside one’s own passions, needs, wants, and opinions so as to meet others’ immediate physical and psychological needs.
Compassion has been also defined as:
A strong emotional response resulting from the observation or knowledge of another’s suffering, accompanied by the desire to help relieve that suffering.
Compassion in nursing examples
There are several examples of compassion in nursing such as:
1. Using open-ended questions
Using open-ended questions to elicit responses that encourage the patient to express his/her feelings and experiences during illness or emotional distress.
Compassionate nurses ask these kinds of questions in order to understand what the patients are experiencing, thinking, feeling; this allows them to build rapport with patients so as to facilitate healing.
Asking open-ended questions also helps nurses avoid eliciting answers they can easily find in textbooks since this approach would allow room for development through dialogue.
2. Nurses must put aside their own values
Nurses must put aside their own values and ideas about how things should be done in order to focus on the patient’s needs.
Doing so requires nurses’ willingness to push themselves beyond their comfort zone because it requires compassion for the patient and his/her family who depend on the nurse’s support.
3. Nurses have a duty to care
Nurses have a duty to care for both patients and their own personal needs in order to reduce stress, enhance practice performance and maintain a healthy life balance.
In this way, nursing can be carried out with compassion because nurses are able to better understand patients’ distress when they take time out from work to develop themselves mentally and emotionally.
4. Counseling involves ‘listening’
Counseling involves ‘listening’ so as to help patients express their feelings related to their illnesses or experiences during hospitalization.
This allows the nurse an opportunity to provide emotional support by being compassionate during counseling sessions so as to help people overcome situations that cause them distress or anxiety.
See also: Nursing Care Plan for Anxiety
5. Assisting patients in managing their pain
Assisting patients in managing their pain during illness, procedures, or hospitalization helps nurses to develop a rapport with them so as to show compassion.
This also helps nurses to focus on the needs of the patient rather than feeling stressed because they have many patients who require attention at once.
6. Provide compassionate care by observing pain level indicators
Nurses can provide compassionate care by observing pain level indicators that are present in patients’ medical charts and then providing reassurance through pain management interventions such as administering analgesics when needed.
7. Nurses have a duty to assist family members
Nurses have a duty to assist family members during times of crisis, loss, or distress so as to help them cope with difficult situations and offer support.
See also: Can Nurses Treat Family Members?
By supporting family members, nurses can show compassion because these family members are confronted with experiences that may be difficult to deal with alone.
8. Address patients’ emotional distress
Nurses in mental health wards often have to address patients’ emotional distress in order to decrease the risks of suicide attempts and help them overcome feelings of despondency or hopelessness.
See also: Mental Health Nurse Interview Questions
This requires that nurses put aside their own distresses in order to focus on alleviating the distress experienced by patients who are suicidal or emotionally unstable.
9. Encouraging people to get involved in activities
Encouraging people to get involved in activities that they enjoy is an example of compassion nursing during hospitalization since it would reduce boredom, stress, and anxiety while giving them a chance to develop connections with others.
10. Asking patients how they would like to be helped
Asking patients how they would like to be helped and then providing assistance is another example of compassionate nursing since this approach makes sure that the patient’s wishes are taken into consideration.
Can compassion be taught to nurses?
Although it might be argued that compassion cannot be taught, nurses can work towards developing their skills in order to become more compassionate.
This would involve observing patients’ distress levels and offering support accordingly since this enhances the nurse-patient relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
It would also require nurses to put aside their own needs so as to focus instead on addressing patients’ needs.
Finally, being sensitive towards others’ feelings is required so as to understand why they are distressed or anxious about a situation.
Without having to label them with an illness every time they show signs of suffering.
Conclusion: Compassion in Nursing
The concept of compassion is a complex one that cannot be defined in a precise manner.
Compassion can mean different things to different people or groups, depending on the person’s background and experiences.
Nurses have a responsibility towards their patients because caring for them involves showing love, social support, and concern for their well-being.
In this way, compassion is required as part of nursing care since it enables nurses to provide the best kind of patient care possible at any given time.
Related articles of ours:
- Why Compassion Is Important in Nursing?
- How Do Nurses Show Compassion?
- Philosophy of Nursing
- SMART Goals in Nursing
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