Caring with Compassion

As humans, caring for each other is innate. In times of sickness or sadness, caring for someone with compassion comes naturally in order for us to survive.

Approaching healthcare with compassion sounds like an obvious rule of thumb. However, with high-stress situations and difficult patients, it can be hard to retain compassion as a healthcare professional.

Dr Tony Fernando has been studying compassion in healthcare for over eight years, calling it a ‘game changer’ when it comes to the mental health of doctors and nurses.

Why is compassion so important in healthcare?

It has been that patients who are treated by compassionate doctors have a faster and smoother recovery. When a person feels they are being truly cared for, they feel safe, their stress levels are reduced and the body can focus on repairing its physical health. For the patient’s family, a compassionate doctor can make all the difference in feeling secure and educated about their sick family member. Compassionate healthcare must also apply to the doctor who is treating the patient. The suicide rate for doctors is high, and this is a situation that could be avoided if the right support and education were put in place on how to deal with tragedies, burnout or extreme stress.

Why does compassion diminish?

If a doctor is feeling tired, grumpy, overworked and stressed out, showing compassion will be difficult. Other external factors also affect compassion, for example, overstimulating and distracting environments like a hospital ward or a busy practice where there are many people, noises and paperwork. Other factors that can diminish compassion are difficulties with patients, for example, not being able to diagnose them or if they need an interpreter – anything that complicates the situation and can cause frustration. Lastly, difficult and demanding patients and families can kill compassion.

How can medical professionals uphold compassion?

Upholding compassion starts with the doctor themselves. If doctors can’t be compassionate towards themselves, it will be difficult for doctors to show compassion to patients. An important factor is ensuring that doctors manage their fatigue and stress. This can make all the difference to whether or not the patient feels properly supported and cared for. It is a tricky thing, but going easy on yourself is important when there are difficult patients or tragic situations.

We have to support each other in hard scenarios and understand that everyone is doing their best. Sometimes, doctors have to make a conscious choice to be compassionate. It won’t happen by itself, and it takes effort. Making a goal or reminder each day can be helpful (I like to leave a note on my computer!) especially if you’re rushing around. When a doctor is stressed out, the patient can sense this and may become upset or rude. The key is to see through this and understand the difficult patient is suffering and merely longing to be cared for.

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