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Showing Compassion in Health Care Setting

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Compassion is a phenomenon that has gradually received universal attention over the last decade both in public debate and the healthcare sector. It has been an issue that is simultaneously discussed. From prehistory when the first humans began to interact socially, up until today, compassion has been crucial to caring relationship. The well-known American philosopher Martha Nussbaum discusses compassion at length in her 2001 book on the intelligence of emotions. Nussbaum claims that, based on an Aristotelian view of suffering and what suffering evokes, that compassion originates in the idea of ‘the eudemonistic argument’. Individuals have this knowledge that fate can strike them as it has struck the one, they feel compassion for. Hence recognizing a general human vulnerability calls for compassion. Since the historical influences of Florence Nightingale, compassion has underpinned traditional philosophies of care across the international professional nursing context. More so, due to increasing patient reports of care experiences reflecting a lack of compassion, the withstanding reality of this traditional nursing philosophy has been challenged.

Also, another well-known scholar who pleads for compassion is the British literary scientist Karen Armstrong. The author initiated a charter for compassion and in her book has touched a chord with healthcare professionals. Armstrong claims that, compassion to be equal to a form of consistent altruism, specifically visible by practicing ‘the golden rule: do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you’. Other authors, such as care ethicists and nurse scientists, plead for compassion to be the central focus of care and specific quality for nurses and professional carers.


Compassion ensues from a recognition of suffering in others, which subsequently initiates helping and alleviatory action. Patients, health care providers, family members, professional bodies, and leading health care organizations identify compassion as a hallmark of quality care. This journal examines that, the role of compassion in health care is obvious in its prominent position within codes of patients’ rights, best practice guidelines, health care reform, and standards of quality care. Also, according to this journal, compassion is prominently featured in professional organizations’ codes of ethics, including the first principle of the American Medical Association code of ethics which states: ‘‘A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.”

From Nightingale to dozens of modern theories in nursing, the aspects of compassion can be found. Clearly, there is a need for compassion as a guiding principle for healthcare practices. However, compassion as a concept is not easily found in nursing curricula or in the body of knowledge on which nursing curricula and practice are based. This is because people do not appear to have a real grip on what compassion is. In other words, people do not have much of an idea of the significance of compassion to those individuals who need care and to nurses themselves. Before we can plead for compassion as something to strive for in education and practice, it’s important to know what compassion is as it offers nurses and other caregiving professionals a real alternative for the performance of good care. Furthermore, compassion is studied within theories of nursing to find out the way in which it has been described since Nightingal.

Compassion in Health Care Reality

Compassionate care matters a lot to patients this is because, it is the presence or absence of compassion that often marks the lasting and vivid memories patients and their family members remember as their overall experience of care in hospital and other settings. For example, during my stay at HUS female hospital in Helsinki, I was indeed overwhelmed by how the nurses there took care of me and how they consistently create that platform for conversation. I told my care giver even if my tax percentage is increase, I will gladly pay without complaints. Till today thinking about my hospital stay at HUS puts a smile on my face. Invent though I was in so much pains, but my heart was felt with joy and I beliefs it was what hastened my recovery process. I belief compassion is a felt experience.

The importance of compassion is known in many segments of society. Most of the world’s religious traditions place compassion at the center of their belief systems. In addition, international professional bodies in healthcare, education and the justice system also emphasize the importance of compassion. For example, the AMA (1981) emphases on the aspect of compassion “A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical services with compassion and respect for human dignity”. Within the healthcare field, compassion is held to have numerous practical advantages. It has been maintained that treating patients with compassion has wide-ranging benefits;

  • It improves clinical outcomes.
  • It enhances the quality of information gathered from patients.
  • It increases patient satisfaction with services.
  • Also, treating oneself and others with compassion is also believed to promote individual wellbeing and improve mental health.

Compassion has been defined as ‘‘suffering with’’ or a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with a demand to relieve it. In other words, it means how care is given through relationships based on empathy, respect and dignity or it can also intelligent kindness, and is central to how people perceive their care.

From my experience taking care of my sick mom when she was hospitalized back home in my country Cameroon, I witnessed care that was carried out with no compassion. I witnessed a teenage girl giving birth during my mother’s hospitalization. My mother ward was next to the delivery room and I could hear how the mid wives were talking rudely to this young girl, criticizing her for getting pregnant at a very young age and not married. During her entire delivery process, she was emotionally abused. This was base of the stereotyped belief we have in African “having children out of wedlock is a taboo” to me this is ethically wrong because a compassionate care giver never stereotypes accepts whatever life throws back at them.

My own experience with my mother was even the worst. Knowing nothing about wound care, I was asked by the nurses to clean my mother’s leg incision and her checkups were done seldomly and never on time. The nurses were on constant rush to leave the ward. No time invested to even engage in a conversation with us. This relation between compassion and caring was practically absent from my observation. Compassion includes real dialogue communication that is human to human rather than clinician.

Patient’s expectations are for nurses to have time for them and listen to them so they can feel loved. This was not the case for what I saw. This can be argued by Hayter (2010) who said, compassion in care takes time and commitment from practitioners. For this reason, discipline, obedience, loyalty, generosity, tenderness, gentleness and cheerfulness should be the attributes of a great caregiver. That is, nurses should help in alleviating the suffering of the patients or individual they are taking care of as compassionate care is not expressed so much in words but in actions


Understanding what the patient is going through and delivering care has been described as a moral virtue, bringing an ethical dimension to care and something that nurses are just expected to do. For example, theorist Watson (1999) articulates these ethical human care transactions as ‘caring occasions/caring moments’ which form an essential component of her caring theory. Hence, compassion is seen in small things that make a big difference to patient comfort. Having compassion towards patients makes them feel cared for and compassionate role models have the ability to energize staff and enhance others ‘ability to be compassionate. Showing simple gestures like holding patients’ hands, pad on the shoulder can make a huge difference.

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Showing Compassion In Health Care Setting. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from
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