Empathy And Compassionate Care Essay By: Olivia Gagne

Empathy And Compassionate Care Essay By: Olivia Gagne

One important thing I have learned in clinical is that I have the power to make a difference in patients lives, one patient at a time.  To do so, a nurse must remember to not only use empathy, but compassion as well.  One story that I always remember is the star fish story.  It’s about a five year old girl on a beach in Florida after a hurricane had destroyed their land.  There were thousands of star fish washed up on the shore.  The little girl was throwing starfish back into the ocean, one starfish at a time.  When her father saw her, he said “why are you even bothering?  You will never be able to save them all”.  As the little girl looked at her father, she picked one up and threw it back into the ocean.  She then said, “I saved that one”.  This is a story my high school guidance councilor told me.  It has always stuck with me and has made me realize one important lesson in nursing.  It’s not about how many lives you saved, its about making a difference one person at a time.

From the hallway of the hospital I heard my patient moaning.  When I walked in for the first time, they reached for my hand but spoke no words.  They squeezed my hand, very tight, and immediately calmed down.  As I introduced myself, they intimately looked at me and moaned “hi”.  At that moment I realized a few things.  They could hear and understand me, but they cannot talk due to the accident the patient was in.  Secondly, they needed human touch.  No student nurse had taken care of this patient prior to when I had arrived that day.  The nurses said the patient has been agitated and emotional since the morning.  But as I held the patients’ hand, they were relaxed and showed their half dropping smile.

Throughout my clinical I took care of this patient.  In the beginning, I immediately had empathy.  I put myself in the patients’ shoes and started to picture how scared I would be if I was waking up from a coma.  I pictured what it would feel like if I couldn’t talk or communicate the way I wanted to.  But during this time, I learned that communication isn’t always through speaking, but can also be from hand squeezing for yes, or shaking their head for no.  I could tell they were scared when they moaned after trying to speak to their PT instructor.  Later in the night, it was time to give the patient a bed bath.  After washing my patients’ body with a warm wet cloth, I asked the patient if they wanted lotion and a foot massage.  Immediately they squeezed my hand for yes.  When we massaged my patients’ feet, once again, their whole body relaxed.  At the end of the night, I realized that it’s important to focus on the small things for each individual patient.  Although some wouldn’t know how to comfort this patient, I slowly figured it out over my seven-hour clinical.  You need to have patience, and to focus on going above and beyond to make your patient feel cared for.  As a good nurse, you need to use compassionate care, and focus on the small actions throughout your shift.  During this shift I started to realize what compassionate care was.  It’s not about going into the patients; room, taking their vitals and leaving.  It’s about using empathy to feel what they feel and putting to action what you think would make them feel better; such as a foot massage with lotion and holding their hand when they reach out.

            As a future nurse, in order to use empathy and compassion in my future practice, it’s important to understand what they mean and how they intertwine with nursing.  Empathy is being able to feel what the patient is going through while putting yourself in their shoes.  How would you feel if this was you?  It’s important for nurses to use empathy.  By putting ourselves in the patients’ shoes, we are only then able to further understand what they are feeling, and what they are going through.  Jean Watson, a nurse herself, put together ten carative factors that help to support empathy in nursing.  She stated that it’s important to “create a healing environment for the physical and spiritual self, while respecting human dignity” (Watson, 2018).  While respecting the patient and creating an environment of healing, this encompasses empathy in nursing.  By trying to understand how they feel and what they are going through, the nurse then can move on to compassionate nursing.

Compassionate nursing is using kindness, empathy, and love to ultimately care for the patient.  It’s being able to focus on the patients’ needs and to help relieve their suffering.  Jean Watson’s carative factor one focuses on “the formation of a humanistic-altruistic system of values” (Gonzalo, 2019).  This refers to using love and kindness in your care of practice.  For example, this could be as simple as holding your patients’ hand while they are crying.  It’s holding back their hair while they throw up and giving them an ice pack when the medications haven’t relieved their pain.  Compassionate care is going above and beyond what one needs to do.  It’s not only providing physical healing, but as said in carative factor eight, it’s the “provision of support, and corrective mental, physical, societal, and spiritual” help for the patient (Gonzalo, 2019). 

A nurse who demonstrates compassionate care is able to “understand a deeper meaning of (the patients) healthcare situation”, as demonstrated throughout Jeans ten carative factors (Watson, 2018).  Both empathy and compassion are found throughout Jean Watsons Carative factors.  By using both, it truly changes the patients’ outcomes.  Carative factor four states the importance of the “development of a helping-trusting, human caring relation” (Gonzalo, 2019).  Therefore, by using empathy and compassion, the patient trusts the nurse more, and builds a stronger foundation of hope, care, and love between both the nurse and the patient.  This increases patient healing far past only physical healing, and truly benefits the clients outcomes.  Both compassionate care and empathy help to demonstrate the amazing power of a compassionate nurse in healing the patient not only physically, but mentally.

My role for the patient talked about above was wanting to help them feel loved and cared for.  By holding their hand when they reached out, and focusing on the small things the patient needs,  I was able to build a stronger patient nurse relationship.  I also met the patients’ spouse multiple times, and learned more about what they patient did before the accident.  In my future, I want to remember this patients impact on me, and my impact on the patient.  The patient made me realize that they aren’t only patients.  They are a mother, father, aunt, uncle, daughter, cousin, and friend.  They might be a couch, teacher, firefighter, singer, gymnast, or swimmer.  In my future, I want to improve in remembering that each patient has a different identity than what the nurse knows them as.  They are more than just a patient.  They are human.  They need touch just like we need touch, they need love and kindness, and ultimately they need understanding and care. 

In my future I will have more patients, more documentation, and more priorities.  But I need to remember this one special thing I have learned.  In my future, I want to remember why I joined nursing.  This includes something I learned from the starfish story.  It truly does not matter the amount of patients you helped compared to how many your co-worker helped.  It comes back to providing compassionate care for one patient at a time and being the best nurse you can be for that individual patient.  This includes helping people heal not only physically, but socially, emotionally, and mentally.  My goal is to improve on focusing on each patient for who they are and helping to provide the patient with what they need.  I will incorporate this into my everyday life as a future nurse by coming back to the core of nursing.  This includes being kind, loving, caring and compassionate.  By remembering a nurses’ core values, I will be able to focus on the little things every day to make a small difference one patient at a time.


Gonzalo, A. (2019, September 12). Jean Watson: Theory of Human Caring. Retrieved November 12,

2019, from https://nurseslabs.com/jean-watsons-philosophy-theory-transpersonal-caring/.

Watson, J. (2018, October 7). Jean Watson Theorist Presentation. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=313&v=o1EN0VH9xCE&feature=emb_logo

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