What Is Compassion in Healthcare?

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, RN


May 04, 2016

Compassion in Health Care: An Empirical Model

Sinclair S, McClement S, Raffin-Bouchal S, et al
J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016;51:193-203

What Is Compassion?

In this grounded theory study, palliative cancer patients' understanding and experiences of compassion were explored through semistructured interviews to provide a critical perspective on the nature and importance of compassion in clinical care. The analysis yielded seven components (virtues of the providers of care, relational space, virtuous response, seeking to understand, relational communication, attending to needs, and patient-reported outcomes) of the first empirically based clinical model of compassion. This model defines compassion as a virtuous response that seeks to address the suffering and needs of a person through relational understanding and action. This conceptual model of compassion can be used by others to continue this important work to foster compassion.

The investigators suggest screening future healthcare professionals for virtues and characteristics of compassion and challenging educational systems to train clinicians to be compassionate, saying, "It may be beneficial to evaluate students' compassion aptitude at an early stage to determine teachability and to develop individualized learning plans to enhance these inherent qualities over time or at the very least buffer against the erosion of these qualities over the course of health care training."


Compassion is one of the most frequently cited concepts in current healthcare discussions and one of the least understood. Compassion is cited in professional guidelines, standards, and extensive literature as essential to patient-centered care.[1,2,3,4,5] Although the contributions of palliative care to healthcare are becoming increasingly evident, there still exists a lack of understanding of the often abstract elements of this care.

This study makes an important contribution to advancing understanding of compassion by sharing the perspectives of patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care. The findings provide empirical support for nurturing qualities in healthcare professionals, described by these patients in terms of virtues. The study also confirms an ever-advancing recognition of the importance of communication skills; the patients cited their experiences with communication as central to compassion. This study also adds significantly to the field of palliative care, providing a model to guide both clinical practice and research.



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