Compassion practices benefit nurses personally and professionally—and improve the patient experience

A new study finds evidence that it is well worth a provider’s time to recognize and reward nurses for their work.

Patients treated at ambulatory clinics that compassionately support their staff and reward them for showing compassion to patients, family members and co-workers have improved perceptions of the care they receive. The clinics also saw a boost in overall patient satisfaction ratings, according to a recent study in Medical Care.

The study surveyed 177 nurses at 30 Virginia Commonwealth University Health nonpediatric ambulatory clinics to evaluate how compassion practices influenced nurses’ reports of well-being. They also examined experience ratings from 3,525 adult patients who were treated in the clinics.  

They found that in clinics where compassion practices were the norm, nurses self-reported less emotional exhaustion and more psychological vitality. Patients who were treated at clinics that practice compassionate care reported better interactions with nurses and gave higher evaluations of their patient care experience.

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Compassionate gestures can be simple practices, such as issuing awards for sympathetic caregiving and offering workplace support. For example, in addition to giving out employee awards, VCU Health provides pastoral care to employees and has designated quiet spaces throughout campus where staff can go to decompress in their immediate work environment. The rooms, called Watson Rooms, have a massage chair, soothing music and are painted in warm colors.

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It costs very little to implement these practices, but the results are significant," said researcher Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, who previously served on the faculty of the VCU School of Business, in a study announcement. She collaborated on the research with lead author Laura McClelland, Ph.D., assistant professor of health administration in the School of Allied Health Professions at VCU.

"They are low-cost, budget-conscious tactics,” Gabriel said. “They help produce happier nurses, and they result in patients having a better care experience in the clinics.”

McClelland referred to the practices as innovative managerial tools. “These practices help create a capacity for compassion and caring that benefits patients and family members,” she said. “We need to make sure we are taking care of our staff, because if we don’t take care of our staff they are not going to be able to take good care of our patients.”