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Nurses: Compassion Experts

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 99 Articles; 148,372 Profile Views; 407 Posts

Nurses and compassionate care go together, don’t they?

Through 3 case studies, this article illustrates nursing compassion at work.

Nurses: Compassion Experts

Below are three instances where a dose of compassion resulted in good medicine.

Case 1:

“I feel like my body is betraying me. I’m only 55 and everything seems to be falling apart,” the patient I was sitting with cried as she spoke with the nurse that was getting her admitted. The nurse paused her typing, turned her body slightly to face the patient, and with genuine compassion in her voice said, “I’m sorry you are having to go through this. All this testing can’t be fun.” The patient visibly relaxed and the tears that threatened seemed to dissipate.

Case 2:

The patient was all set to go to surgery. I was there with her pastor to pray for this major procedure to remove cancer from her colon. Her husband hovered nearby and as they started to roll her stretcher out, he clung to her hand. The intake nurse was there, and he gently slowed the gurney and spoke to the husband, touching his arm, “We will take good care of her. If you will go through those double doors to the waiting area, we will be in regular contact with you throughout the surgery.” His manner and calm demeanor spoke volumes. The husband released the stretcher and kissed two fingers before touching them gently to his wife’s lips and mouthing the words, “I love you.”

Case 3:

The patient had been in the ICU on life support for several days. The situation looked grim and the prognosis was not good. As the Parish Nurse, I visited daily and tried to help the family as it became clearer that we were looking at considering end-of-life issues with this wife, mother, and grandmother in her early 70’s. The bedside nurse was so helpful! She was competent and busily tended to the patient’s multiple lines, continuous dialysis and ventilator. Her manner was simply reassuring. She talked in low tones and did her best to answer questions that the family expressed. They sat anxiously by, and some of them stood in the hall. No doubt crowd control had to be trying this nurse’s patience, but she did not let it show. She steered the family away from the bedside and into the waiting area so that she could have more space to provide the necessary care, but even in doing so, she communicated volumes about her empathy toward this tight-knit family and their grief. As the Parish Nurse, I tried to help transition the family to a better space and continued to provide a listening ear and to help in interpreting what was going on. 

The American Nurses Association’s broad definition of nursing states:


Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.

There is a lot to love in this definition because nursing is truly about so much: the stated and unstated. Compassion may not be part of the official description, but it is often part of the force that draws people into nursing and certainly one of the motivators for staying there even when times are tough professionally. 

So being a compassionate nurse is a good thing. We all get that. But if we are not particularly bent that way, how do we cultivate that characteristic? Also, if we are just plain worn out and tired, how do we stay compassionate? Isn’t it “fake” to pretend that we feel something we don’t? If we really want to be authentic people, shouldn’t we be honest with our patients when we are not having a good day?

Compassion is an action more than an emotion. When we are professionals, we can act with compassion even when we are having a difficult day and do that without “faking it” or lying or trying to muster up some artificial warm and fuzzy feelings. Professionalism simply means that we understand the scope of our work and that part of it is trying to make a better day for our patients. We do that best, when we act with compassion—in some small way seeking out a position of empathy. This can be trying with our difficult patients, but part of being a consummate professional is knowing how to make that happen even when we don’t feel so inclined.

Compassion rises from a well that can run dry. We have all been around the nurses that have run out of steam professionally: they have had to work too long and too hard and under undesirable circumstances. Let’s be honest and name it: Nursing really stinks sometimes. But as professionals, we keep trying to support each other and encourage one another to be our best selves. No, we will not succeed every day—no one does—but we can prod each other on and help each other seek ways to refill that well of compassion when it threatens to hit bottom.

Genuine compassion sometimes means not communicating your own personal issues. In our own lives, we have struggles so it is easy to forget that the patient is not there to hear about them. They are in their own time of trial and often cannot cope with hearing about someone else’s—even if it’s as simple as your flat tire on the way to work this morning. Really, our patients need our professionalism to trump our own need to share. Listening and caring about their needs is what we are trained to do.

Whether brand new or benefitting from long years of experience, nurses can have uniquely helpful perspectives in their area of expertise. Whether in the hospital or out; whether corporate or private; facility or outpatient—in any and all settings nurses who show compassion offer true help.

Joy is currently a Faith Community Nurse. She has been a nurse for 35 years in a variety of settings. She enjoys writing and reading a good book, and stays active with her large family and grandchildren.

5 Followers; 99 Articles; 148,372 Profile Views; 407 Posts

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