Embodying compassion: A systematic review of the views of nurses and patients

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2019, 28 (9-10), pp. 1380 - 1392
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© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Aims and objectives: To provide a review of empirical research investigating how compassion is expressed by nurses and received by patients in hospital settings. Background: Compassion is viewed as an important and fundamental part of a health professional practice. Universally, reports from both media and government agencies have addressed perceived deficits of compassion in healthcare with nurses accused of a lack of compassion. Research into compassion to date has largely focused on the problematic nature of compassion such as burnout, fatigue and other negative personal and work-related outcomes. Design: A systematic literature review of empirical research guided by a meta-ethnographic approach supported the systematic comparison and translation of the included studies. Six online databases were searched from January 2006–December 2016. Methods: This review was carried out according to the PRISMA-P reporting guidelines. How compassion in healthcare was defined was extracted alongside findings on how compassion was expressed by nurses and received by patients. Synthesis of the research was completed resulting in new interpretations. Results: Eleven papers met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. Multiple differing definitions of compassion in healthcare were applied. Nurses embody and enact compassion through behaviours such as spending time with patients and communicating effectively with patients. Patients experience compassion through a sense of togetherness with nurses. Conclusion: Existing research demonstrated dissonance between the expression of compassion by nurses and how compassion is experienced by patients. The themes identified in this review should be considered by health professionals providing patient care. Relevance to clinical practice: Health providers should acknowledge and account for the time that nurses need with patients to demonstrate compassion in practice. Nursing education relating to the expression of compassion should articulate both the subjectivity and ambiguity of the term and examine the relationship between compassion and suffering.
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