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First students tested on compassion


The first national batch of nursing students to be tested and tracked on their ability to show compassion will be arriving at Welsh universities this September.

All higher education institutions in Wales have this year asked for nursing degree applicants to provide evidence of their caring dispositions alongside their academic qualifications.

Those accepted onto programmes will receive regular feedback on whether they are demonstrating sufficient levels of compassion and communication skills while on work placements.

Welsh Assembly Government nursing officer Jean White told Nursing Times: “We want nurses to possess personal attributes to do with being kind, compassionate, caring, honest and trustworthy.

“If you look at some of the most common complaints, they’re about a lack of compassion. We want to raise awareness that we value these things.”

Applicants have had to provide a “statement of character” from a supervisor or manager at the residential, hospital or community care setting in which they are currently working. This can be substituted with a community group leader, employer or teacher if necessary.

In interviews, candidates were then rated excellent, good, satisfactory or poor at “demonstrating an understanding of what is meant by care/caring”.

On placements, supervisors will be asked to rate students on a scale from one to seven on how they meet a range of standards, including “Is always polite”, “Happy to accept constructive criticism” and “Shows a caring disposition towards others”.

Dr White said she could see no reason why these types of questions could not be used by trusts interviewing nurses or even non clinical staff, at any level.

A team is currently evaluating the impact of the process, which has been carried out on a trial basis for the 2010-11 entry. Measures for success may include numbers of patient complaints, Dr White said.

Some nursing leaders in England have been “really interested” in the development, she added.

However, moves to assess nurses on their levels of compassion have been developing more slowly in England.

Despite former health secretary Alan Johnson’s call for nurse compassion to be measured in 2008, no specific indicators have been published by the English Department of Health.

The Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery called for staff to make a pledge to deliver “high quality, compassionate care”.

The pledge was dismissed as “an insult” by Tory health minister Anne Milton.

The first national batch of nursing students to be tested on their ability to show compassion will be arriving at Welsh universities this September.

The letter to students

Dear (Applicant’s name)

Following your application it is the policy in Wales for all students applying for either a Nursing or Midwifery course, that a Statement of Character must be completed on your behalf. It must be given by someone who has known you for a substantial period of time (normally at least a year) and who is in a position to comment objectively on your personal qualities. This person MUST NOT be a family member or personal/family friend.

You should obtain the Statement of Character from one of the following sources:

1) If you are currently undertaking ‘care’ work in a residential, hospital or community setting you MUST obtain the Statement of Character from this source - from either a manager/supervisor/registered practitioner.


2) If you are still in school/college (full or part time) - from a teacher who has personally taught you on a regular basis.

3) If you attend a youth/community/church group - from a group leader who has worked with you regularly.

4) If you are in paid employment - from a supervisor, manager or senior colleague who has worked with you regularly.

5) If you play a sport or pursue an interest outside of work or school - from a leader of the organisation that you are associated with who has met with you regularly.

6) If you undertake voluntary work or act as a carer - from a leader/supervisor of the project who has worked with you regularly.

7) If you sit on a community/school group or committee - from a leader who has sat on the committee/group with you regularly.

Statement of character

To the best of your knowledge, for each set of statements please indicate by ticking the appropriate box the response that most suits the applicant. When completing the form below 7 is the highest score you can award and 1 is the lowest. Candidates would normally be expected to have a score of 25 or above to be considered suitable, although this reference is considered in conjunction with the application form, interview and academic reference.

It would also be very helpful if you would give examples, where possible, to illustrate your response in the space provided below each statement.

1. Is always Polite / Can sometimes be abrupt even rude on occasions

2. Always seems interested in an individual / Appears indifferent

3. Is a positive listener / Does not appear to listen

4. Respects others views/opinions/wishes / Shows little awareness of others views/opinions/wishes

5. Respects others privacy and dignity / Shows little awareness of others privacy and dignity

6. Shows a caring disposition towards others / Shows little regard for others

7. Works well as a team member / Shows little awareness of team responsibilities

8. Always carries out allocated work / Needs constant supervision to ensure work is done

9. Happy to accept constructive criticism / Not happy to accept constructive criticism

Please add any other comments you feel appropriate below.


Should all student nurses be tested on their ability to show compassion?

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Readers' comments (35)

  • Compassion is subjective, therefore difficult to assess

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  • I am a third year nursing student studying in Wales, and prior to starting in March 2008 we had to obtain a character reference, and also part of the continuing documentation that our mentor fills in at each placement is the 'Assessment of Professional Attitudes'.
    So my understanding is that this is nothing new, it has just been re-package and advertised

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  • If compassion correlates to direct basic nursing care then I am all for it being tested. Anyone can administer treatment but to do it with compassion is the essence of nursing. Time pressures and stresses are ever increasing but remember each patient could be a member of your family and should be treated as a person not a disease, illness, particular op etc etc. Measuring the ability of people to show compassion would not be a step too far to my mind.

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  • All great stuff. Shame they are going to be burnt out 18 months after qualifying by a system that shows little compassion to their needs.

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  • Compassion and other qualities required to be a good nurse cannot be reduced to a set of tick box style questions and responses and any attempts to do so are doomed to fail. Compasson and empathy are embodied intuitive responses to emotional engagement and therefore may be facilitated by a caring, nurturing environment but cannot be taught and measured in a reductionist didactic way which is antithetical to caring and emotional engagement.

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  • Anonymous | 22-Apr-2010 0:41 am
    Really interesting point, if we are directing and demanding people to be compassionate and kind in what they do yet the organisations are they work for are demanding that we put that aside in order that the quantity of work to targets is more important, is that resovable? I'm sure the vast majority of nurses recognise the conflict to more of or less an extent as well and end up taking it home and then carrying it back to work every day, as management are in a very good position to not have to resolve it without legal input.

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  • In addition to above...we're all taught about Maslow' hierarchy of needs and how to assess and consider our patient's needs within that framework, yet we don't assess and consider our own needs as a profession within that framework. Why are we not that important?

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  • At the essence of what nurses do is 'the emotional work' or their relationship with their patients which relies entirely upon nurses having a great relationship with themselves. I'm not surprised that the Welsh have decided to address this issue somewhat at the individual level - however I cannot stress enough how the governments policy to the health service mitigates against nurses being caring and compassionate through constant organisational change, and little in the way of professional development or mentorship. If we don't value and invest in these carers it's no surprise that their compassion level comes up short to what the public should expect.

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  • In my opinion its not the ones entering nursing that need character references its the ones that have been there a long time some are rude to patients and are just plain lazy

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  • Managers need to learn compassion................

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