19th January 2018, Volume 131 Number 1468

Antonio Fernando, Conor Rea, Phillipa Malpas

Compassion is a core virtue in medicine and lies at the heart of good medical care .1–3 Its Latin derivation translates as, “with suffering”, thus compassion has a cognitive component;…

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Summary

Compassion lies at the heart of good medical care, particularly for the most vulnerable end-of-life patients. However, even though compassion is crucial and central to medical care, it is poorly researched. Our goal was to understand patients’ experiences of compassion and lack of compassion so that we can inform doctors and nurses what compassion is and is not from a dying patient’s perspective. We found that though compassion is so valuable and treasured by patients, it is not that complicated and in fact is “cheap”, meaning it does not take much time and effort from the clinicians. Dying patients see compassion as clinicians connecting with them, talking to them in a way that can be understood, treating them with respect, showing some interest in them and having a positive presence for them.

Abstract

Compassion is a core virtue in medicine and lies at the heart of good medical care. It connects us to each other and reflects our need for relationships with others.

Aim

Our aim is to explore how palliative care patients perceive, understand and experience compassion from health professionals, and to inform clinical practice.

Method

Seven hospice managers in the North Island of New Zealand were contacted and invited to join the study. Twenty participants expressed a desire to participate and were involved in semi-structured face-to-face interviews. A set of questions guided the interviewers with interviews lasting between 15–60 minutes.

Results

In regards to the question, what is your understanding of compassion?, four central themes emerged: connection, presence and warmth, respect and caring. When asked, what advice can you give to trainee health professionals?, participants articulated four themes: connecting with patients and talking in a way they can understand, treating the person with respect, showing interest in them and being a positive presence for them.

Conclusion

Compassion was seen as a connection between the carer and the patient. Compassion is having a positive presence and warmth; an attitude of respect and caring. The main advice given by research participants to enhance compassion is for doctors and nurses to connect, to talk in a way that can be understood, and show interest and respect to patients facing the end of their lives.

Author Information

Antonio Fernando, Department of Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland, Auckland;
Conor Rea, FMHS University of Auckland, Auckland; Phillipa J Malpas, Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

We would like to sincerely thank the individuals (and their families) who generously gave of their time. We couldn’t have done this without you. We would also like to thank the hospices involved and their managers for supporting the study. 

Correspondence

Dr Antonio Fernando, Department of Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland, 2 Park Rd, Auckland 1023.

Correspondence Email

a.fernando@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Nil.

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