Compassion in nursing is so much more than being nice to patients. Compassion is about connecting with human beings on a level deeper than just “the GI bleeder in room 14 bed 2”. When nurses extend compassion, they provide the patient a sense of security. A feeling that their condition and concerns are being heard, recognized and acted upon. Compassion fosters a strong foundation of trust and assures them that you’re both working towards the best possible outcome for them physically, emotional, mentally, and at times, spiritually.
Patients expect their nurses to be competent – that we’re going to give them the right medications, detect any complications early, intervene appropriately, and maintain the knowledge and skills we need to save their lives. What they WANT from us is our compassion, but it can’t be taught. You won’t find a chapter in your nursing books about it.
Compassion has to come from within.
It takes compassion for the pediatric nurse who’s caring for a 12 month old little girl with a terminal disease to somehow get an adult bed into the pediatric ICU and encourage this precious child’s mother to climb in bed and hold her baby against her abdomen as though she was back in her womb when they take her off life support. Compassion is what leads us to hold a patient’s hand as they endure the side effects of chemo. It’s actively listening to the patient whose family hasn’t visited them in a month. It’s deciding to spend your personal time reading to the little girl in room 402 that’s waiting on a liver transplant.
Melissa Hart described it perfectly in her 2011 winning essay “Compassion: A Necessity for Quality Nursing Care.” She wrote:
“Compassion is not merely the sympathy you show toward a friend or family member in need, but rather the sympathy that causes you to act on an inner desire to help those very same people. Compassion links the entirety of a nurse’s scope of practice, not only what one is obligated to do under licensure, but what one is compelled to do as a human being; make a difference and make it count.”
Although you need compassion to be the best nurse possible, there are plenty of really great nurses out there that struggle with it for a multitude of reasons. For example, a nurse who was raised without love or respect may find it harder to foster those meaningful connections despite how badly they want to. This doesn’t make them a bad nurse. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They want to give the world something more than what they’ve received; and for that they’re my own personal heroes. There are also nurses who love caring for their patients, but the part of nursing that comes naturally to them tends to fall on the more “practical” side of things. These are the awesome nurses that helped us pass Microbiology and talked sense into us when we wanted to quit.
So, if compassion is a must in nursing, but it can’t be taught, is there a way to improve upon it?
Absolutely! Today we will cover three simple ways we can cultivate compassion and create a culture of care without feeling like we’re stepping outside of our comfort zone to do so.
1. BUILD RAPPORT
Your patient doesn’t want to feel like a patient; they want to feel like a human being. The best way to do this is to express a genuine interest in them. Ask them about their interests, hobbies, and families. May favorite way to establish rapport is to ask them about their favorite foods! Everyone likes to talk about food (when appropriate). Take the time to notice their fears and vulnerabilities, acknowledge their thoughts, feelings and what matters to them. Express as much verbal kindness as possible, but make sure it’s genuine and supported by your body language. Just a simple smile goes a long way. Expressing interest and getting to know them not only shows compassion, but it also lays the foundation of trust between the two of you and can help you empathize better with them.
Speaking of empathy…
Empathy is best described as simply “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” It’s the ability to really understand or feel what someone else is going through. Maybe you had a mom, father or sister who went through a similar experience as your patient. Your ability to let them know you understand and care is powerful. I realize this can be easier said than done, but it’s an essential trait to possess as a nurse. If you’re not sure where to start, just build on the rapport you’ve created by expressing interest in them and letting them know it’s okay to be afraid, anxious, or even a bit angry. Remember that they may be apprehensive due to the medical problems they’re dealing with. This is where empathy can really help. From a position of rapport and empathy, extend compassion by instilling hope, just make sure it isn’t false hope.
A lot of times what someone who is sick or in pain wants the most (other than not to be sick or in pain) is someone to listen to them. Listening not only comforts them, but helps you better understand their concerns. Simply listening with intent will often allow you to pick up on symptoms or feelings that a patient may not even be aware of or just doesn’t know how to communicate. “Listening” to a patient simply to reply isn’t listening at all and it won’t serve either one of you well in the long run, so make sure your present and engaged. Ask them questions about their physical AND emotional needs, as well as any care-giving preferences they may have, and accommodate them when possible. Doing so will make their care go smoother and can greatly improve their condition.
It’s my sincere hope that these tips have helped you, but more importantly I want to thank you. Thank you for caring for our families, friends, and loved ones. Thank you for all the things you do that fall outside of your scope of work. Thank you for being the type of nurse who strives to incorporate kindness and compassion in all you do. Thank you for being a gifted nurse.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If YOU want to be happy, practice compassion.”
~ Dali Lama
Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.