What exactly is compassion?

All nurses would consider themselves compassionate.

And there is a community expectation that compassionate care is a corner stone of healthcare.

Patients and their families would rank compassion as one of their greatest healthcare needs.

Compassion seems intuitive but there are recent examples about a lack of compassion in public life.

Such as being dragged from a plane or being cared for in a nursing home.

Nurses can identify examples of where their part of the health care system similarly lacked compassion.

That lack of compassion occurs despite frequent references to it in organisational value statements and the self-apparent nature of the work that nurses do.

It is extolled as a cornerstone of quality health care.

So what is compassion?

The dictionary defines it as 

“…the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them. Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts and pains of another. Compassion is often regarded as having an emotional aspect to it, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice, and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity based on sound judgment. 

…The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.” More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.”

Compassion is a series of emotions that includes sympathy, pity and empathy.

Empathy is an ability to understand and accurately acknowledge the feelings of another.

On the other hand, sympathy is an emotional reaction of pity towards the misfortune of another, especially those who are recognised as suffering unfairly.

Nurses start out with great intentions.

Some students exhibit fewer caring behaviours and less empathy towards the end of their initial education.

And once in practice, they miss 70% of opportunities to be empathetic.

The capacity for compassion seems to be eroded as time goes by.

In fact, healthcare workers rank technical skills higher than the internal qualities that comprise compassion when asked what the key components of quality care are.

Time is one element of compassion. 

Patients consider compassionate care as the giving or having time for them as well as the provision of information in a timely manner.

In the instance of bereavement, family members will recall the impact of a compassionate act ( or the lack of) when discussing care provided to a loved one who has died.

The qualities of respect, dignity, care, honesty, fairness, commitment, persistence, presence and kindness are perceived as what makes a compassionate nurse.

But there is little research that has investigated compassion in a clinical setting.

The work that has been done has conspicuously failed to include patient’s views on the matter.

To learn more about compassion: