It’s actually quite comical when you watch movies or TV shows such as Star Trek, where the “way” of the future is shown. In many cases, it’s an antiseptic and disconnected environment where efficiency and technology lead the way. In this world, people handle more on their own, knowing what powder packets to mix up to care for themselves.
This will never be the future. That’s because the human in human nature will never be replaced by technology or process. Nurses know this better than anyone. Whenever a human being is in need, emotions rise to the top – led by fear, confusion, frustration and even anger. As a professional whose job is to care for people when they are in this physical and emotional state, nurses have a big job ahead of them each day, knowing they must connect with each patient to bring about the greatest chances of healing.
A nonprofit Emotional Intelligence network called Six Seconds posted an article several years ago about how practiced empathy in patient health care is a key factor in patient compliance and trust in the care staff. If the nurses don’t practice empathy, the reasons most often given were that they didn’t have time and they didn’t know how. It is important to remember that empathy isn’t necessarily a step or action, but a feeling that can be communicated with a look, the simple holding of a hand or even just a few words such as, “I know this is tough for you; I will help you as much as I possibly can.”
According to research, this type approach generally results in a patient response of one sentence or less. In other words, you are not opening up a can of worms that will be difficult to maintain while the patient is in your care. When a nurse does not show empathy, most patients will continually seek assurance, information or, more specifically, a connection.
Indeed, a little empathy goes a long way. National Association for Home Care and Hospice has this great article on the power of connection and health outcomes. This article points out that when a connection is forged between the nurse and patient, the patient has more trust in the nurse and is more apt to follow instructions. This, of course, improves health outcomes.
As mentioned earlier, empathy can be shown in simple and very quick ways. Pausing for five seconds to hold the patient’s hand, look them in the eye and tell them that you will take good care of them creates a very strong bond. You can also investigate the true nature of the patient’s suffering. Is it all physical or is it emotional as well? Are they scared and need a diversion such as talking about their children or a vacation they would like to take? Are they in distress because they live alone and they have a dog who needs to be cared for?
Try every day to remember that your job is to promote healing, not just to care for the sick or injured. Infusing this positive approach will help you to naturally practice sincere empathy and see the incredible, positive effects!
One of the obstacles in practicing empathy can be not knowing how. If you have a proven technique, please share it in the comment box so that others can learn from you.