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Nurses 'lose' compassion in first two years of practice

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The erosion of compassion starts early in nurses’ careers, according to a new report by the healthcare think tank the King’s Fund.

The perception that nursing is becoming less compassionate has prompted both the government and individual trusts to explore ways of measuring nurses on their levels of compassion.

A new King’s Fund report Enabling Compassionate Care in Acute Hospital Services concludes that nurses need better support during the earliest years of their career if they are to be more compassionate to patients.

The full report, seen by Nursing Times, said that while most students entered health care because they wanted to make things better, after qualifying they become less empathetic and more distanced from patients.

‘Newly qualified nurses have a coherent and strong set of espoused ideals around delivering high-quality, patient centred, holistic and evidence-based care,’ the report stated.

‘However, within two years in practice the majority of these nurses experienced frustration and some level of burnout as a consequence of their ideals and values being thwarted.’

The King’s Fund also warned that if trusts placed too much emphasis on finance then levels of compassion among their nursing staff were likely to suffer as a result.

‘If finance and productivity are perceived as being the only things that matter it can have profound negative effects on the way staff feel about the value placed on their work as caregivers,’ it stated. ‘This makes it more difficult to cope with the inevitable emotional and psychological demands of the job.’

The report recommended that more emphasis needed to be placed on the ‘human aspects’ of clinical care in pre-registration training, with ‘values’ of showing compassion ‘instilled’.

Additionally, it called on trusts to better support nurses in dealing with the stress they faced working on the frontline, which could compromise compassion.

It said NHS trusts would do well to offer regular support through groups and stress management workshops to staff. 

‘The regular support of a group of colleagues who face similar situations can be an ideal opportunity to speak out about traumatic and difficult encounters and dilemmas faced recently,’ the report stated.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • I am just a little stumped as to what parameters could be used to measure compassion. How on earth could anyone quantify it? I disagree strongly that nurses lose compassion, I think that nurses very quickly develop coping mechanisms which makes them better able to deal with stressful situations. Yes, trusts do place far too much emphasis on finance and budget restraints but that is just part and parcel of life in the NHS, it does not have an unlimited pot of money. Having said that, at ward level, you try feeling compassionate to a patient who has just thumped you, sworn at you, bit or kicked you!

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  • As a 3rd yr student in an A&E placement I was amazed to be told off for giving an elderly patient and her husband a drink of tea at 3am in the morning while they waited for porters. The doctor confirmed the patient could have a drink, but my mistake was giving her husband one! I was told there was a machine outside if the husband wanted a drink and only patients could have a drink. Whether this was hospital policy, ward policy or just staff evading making tea I don`t know, but wonder what happened to holistic nursing and significant others? Sorry to say but I will continue "sneaking" the odd cup to a relative if I consider it appropiate as not everyone, particularly the elderly, want to leave their partner.

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  • I HAVE TO SAY THAT WHILE I'M SURE SOME NURSE'S DO HAVE LESS COMPASSION, THERE ARE OTHERS WHO HAVE MORE. JUST AS WITH EVERYTHING SURELY IT IS A INDIVIDUAL THING, AND AS I HAVE SAID IN THE PAST TO FRIENDS, COLLEGUES, AND FAMILY I KNOW THAT WHEN MY OWN COMPASSION RUNS OUT THAT THAT WILL BE A SURE SIGN THAT IT IS MY TIME TO GET OUT OF NURSING. THANKFULLY I STILL FEEL COMPASSION IN ALL I DO AT WORK, AND IT CARRIES OVER INTO HOME LIFE ~ AND THAT AFTER BEING A QUALIFYED NURSE FOR 19 YEARS. { AND YES I NOW FEEL OLD. LOL. }

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