Home | Clinical Practice | Empathy heals

Empathy heals

The ability to understand what patients are going through is a vital part of providing care.

Care and compassion are two essential qualities all nurses need to possess in order to be successful at their jobs.

It is not just the clinical knowledge that will enhance a patient’s recovery; the ability to be empathetic with any member of the general public is vital to the mental wellbeing of patients admitted to hospital, for whatever illness or injury.

“I guess what healthcare professionals have to do is understand what the needs and concerns of that person are because different people may have different experience and individual needs,” says professor Sally Chan, head of school, nursing and midwifery, from the University of Newcastle.

“We need to provide person-centred care, so we need to understand the experience and then provide care accordingly,” Chan says. “That means although a few persons may have similar diagnosis the approaches to treatment and the approach to care may be different because they have different needs.”

Chan says the human mind is more important than the physical self. It’s an approach that has defined her career in mental health research, which has spanned more than 20 years and brought the nurse educator international recognition. She has collaborated with nursing and health communities worldwide and her research has been influential in healthcare policy and service delivery in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

“We cannot treat everybody the same,” Chan says. “We have to provide care for the person. If we do not understand the person, if we do not have the compassion towards their suffering, it’s very difficult for us to put ourselves into the person’s shoes and to understand the experience they are going through.

“Compassion is important for us to understand our patients, so we can walk the journey together with the person and help them recover. Sometimes recovery may not be possible, then we have to feel, we have to understand the suffering, the experience and then hopefully we can accompany them throughout their life’s journey.”

The University of Newcastle recently held the 3rd Asia-Pacific International Conference on Qualitative Research in Nursing, Midwifery and Health. It brought together 180 participants from 12 countries discussing the need for different approaches to healthcare whilst maximising compassion and care integration across all levels.

The event featured keynote speakers Max van Manen, a distinguished scholar at the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology, and Catherine Aquino-Russell, professor of nursing at the Faculty of Nursing, University of New Brunswick, Canada.

Both academics presented on how to use qualitative methodology to understand human experience.

“When we conduct a study, it has to be based on our insight and understanding of a person,” Chan says. “That was the basis of both talks. Sometimes we need to spend a lot of time understanding the phenomenon and then we get insight into that phenomenon, and then we understand the person’s experience.

“Sometimes the insight may not come fast, even when we think very hard to classify the insight … When we try to understand the person, we have to spend a lot of time looking at all the data we collected, and then we certainly generate the insight into the person’s experience.”

Chan says there were also presentations on how to use art to help patients, including those with dementia and depression.

“I think often when we talk about healthcare, we focus on treatment, medications, surgery – all that,” Chan says. “Sometimes we negate the person’s experience and the life within that illness.”



Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *