Within the healthcare community, compassion is defined as “the recognition, understanding, and emotional resonance with another’s concerns, distress, pain or suffering, coupled with relational action to ameliorate these states” (Lown, 2016). Simply stated, compassion involves having empathy or real concern for patients coupled with a desire to take action to address the patient’s need.
According to The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, healthcare professionals who provide compassionate or humanistic care typically exhibit the following seven attributes:
- Integrity: the congruence between expressed values and behavior
- Excellence: clinical expertise
- Compassion: once again, this is the awareness and acknowledgement of the suffering of another and the desire to relieve it
- Altruism: the capacity to put the needs and interests of another before your own
- Respect: the regard for the autonomy and values of another person
- Empathy: the ability to put oneself in another’s situation, e.g., nurse as patient
- Service: the sharing of one’s talent, time, and resources with those in need; giving beyond what is required.
In addition, leading authorities in the field of nursing, including Dr. Patricia Benner, have identified four hallmarks of compassionate health care:
- A strong desire to help patients, families, and colleagues. This is the primary reason why many nurses enter the profession.
- The ability to collaborate, communicate, and partner with patients and family members to the extent they need and desire. This is truly the essence of providing patient-centered, culturally sensitive care.
- A commitment of all who provide and support healthcare to communicate and collaborate with each other. Health care today is rapidly moving toward team-based models where all healthcare professionals work in tandem on behalf of the patient and show respect for what each provider brings to the care team.
- The well-being and resilience of the healthcare professional. There is a growing body of evidence that shows a clear link between a nurse’s personal well-being and the quality of the care they provide.
Compassionate care is not only the right thing to do from a humanistic perspective; this approach also raises the quality of care and helps to improve patient safety. When nurses and other healthcare providers work together and build caring, trusting, and collaborative relationships with patients, studies reveal a connection to more appropriate healthcare decisions, better patient adherence with treatment plans, and less costly healthcare outcomes. Employers today are looking for highly educated nurses who can deliver these outcomes, can work effectively in multidisciplinary teams, and provide the best care possible to patients, especially for the most vulnerable.
Questions and exercises to consider with classmates and/or colleagues:
- What other attributes do you see as foundational to compassionate care?
- List examples of compassionate care demonstrated by the caregivers in 5B.
- Think of a time when you believe you delivered compassionate care. How did it feel to do so? What was your patient’s reaction?
- How does one provide compassionate care while maintaining their own well-being?
- How does clinical expertise contribute to compassionate care?
- Name ways that caregivers on 5B demonstrated service – giving beyond what is required.
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation
Research, clinician wellbeing resources, podcasts
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare
Issue briefs and research; media center, video gallery
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education
Aagard, M., Papadopoulos, I. & Biles, J., (January 26, 2018). Exploring compassion in U.S. nurses: results from an international research study. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, Vol. 23, No. 1.
Lown, B.A., Rosen, J. & Martiila, J. (2011). An agenda for improving compassionate care: a survey shows about half of patients say such care is missing. Health Affairs, 30(9), 1772-1778. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0539