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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)

  • This article makesme want to vomit, but not as much as the apparent fascination with a conceptthat defies the laws of logic and comomn sense.

    Without fail the rudest and most uncompassionate people are:

    2.Senior Nurses

    These people are theones who should be tested. nobody else.

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  • Without fail the rudest and most uncompassionate people are:

    2.Senior Nurses

    add to that, female police officers when dealing with other women. politicians, my team leader, and majority of health and social care managers and funding panels.

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  • I am a third year student, and have always been had attitudinal assesments alongside skills assessments. Presumed this was the norm, and why isn't it?

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  • what about existing staff who are arrrogant and rude ????

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  • Wow, how do I apply for the job that the idiot who thought this up has?

    I assume they have a really good salary and are not too stressed otherwise they wouldn't have time to daydream all day in order to come up with such a ridiculous idea.

    Nurses are overworked, tired, not appreciated and therefore stressed. Stress does not help anyone to display any of the 'qualities' apparently required in order to be labelled compassionate, particularly in these uncertain times.

    What a load of tosh!

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  • 1.When I trained 1,000 years ago = we did have to have such 'character references' from our training school as well as passing exams. Why was this practice stopped?

    2.Equality legislation demands all health care professionals are treated equally. If not the case here, this is discriminatory & unlawful practice.

    3. Health care professionals have a legal 'Duty of Care' - not 'TO' care

    4. Senior & experienced professionals have learned to be wary of 'compassion' & other overwhelming emotions - it often clouds one's judgement. Do not make the mistake of thinking compassion is always in the patient's 'best interests' - you might miss something vital to life whilst you are focussed on YOUR OWN emotional status.

    5. A person might ACT compassionate but not BE compassionate - Dr. Shipman was universally considered to be a very compassionate man. We now know he was not.

    We need to be sensible about this - these students are still forming their 'character' & there is nothing more 'character' building than nurse training done compassionately.

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  • Compassion, and indeed respect, is a state of mind, and often it is the nurse who is able to 'hold it together' who can make the best clinical diagnosis of a given situation. Not all outward displays of respect/compassion are genuine or indeed helpful in certain situations. Students need to be able to critically analyse problems, and deal effectively within the situation.

    Also, as Maria Gough pointed out regarding equality, is this requirement going to be across the board for all healthcare professionals??? If not, why not??? Again, nurses, the coalface, getting the rough end of the stick!!!

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  • I would say that respect can be thought and taught in the way of politeness and being well-mannered but compassion I would argue is not a state of mind. I would argue it is an embodied state of empathy and positive regard as talked about by Carl Rogers. Compasson and empathy are felt not thought and depend largely if not entirely on what your emotional responses are. Hence self-reflection is vital in this process and debate. I firmly believe compassion, if not already apparent, can be nurtured through teaching understanding and modelling something more healthy but I've found in my experience it doesn't emerge in response to being shouted at, being criticised or being undervalued.

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  • Sadly - most of the comments above are offensive to people who really care or receive care.

    I just hope and pray that none of the awful responders are not working in the 'care' sector in any description. If they are then heaven helps us all.

    A further comment about this article is that there has to be some measure, some question by the interviewer and then continued by the assessors, about the student's attitude and values in practice.
    It is totally irresponsible not to find this out initially and I would say - for any nurse interview contrary to their code of conduct.

    Even if this means that we turn away some who don't display some indication of a caring attitude we have to do SOMETHING.

    Please - no more awful and stereotypical comments from some of the previous respondents.

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  • I am amazed that it's taken managements so long to take this vital subject seriously. However, the qualities necessary to make a good nurse are complex, and cannot be simplifiedtoo much: most is what is termed intuitive, and only really develops in effective practice with real people.
    A good starting point is to study Carl Roger's core qualities: including empathic understanding, congruency, etc. Gerard Egan's work is also useful. Tis a pity that some senior doctors in most locations have little or no skill in these vital human qualities.

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