One of the most important traits in nurses is also their biggest challenge. Nurse.com says empathy is an important item in the toolkit of the average nurse, but if they fail to protect themselves, it can also lead to burnout.
Let’s talk about the importance of empathy for both nurses and their patients. Is empathy the same as sympathy? Are there studies showing that empathy improves care outcomes? Why does empathy still matter in our caring profession?
The biggest difference between empathy and sympathy is empathy allows you to feel sorry with someone. Sympathy means you feel sorry for someone. Empathy allows you to feel what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Empathic nurses understand and share in the feelings the other person is experiencing. Psychology Today says, “Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner.”
Empathy is hard for nurses to express today because it seems like we’re always rushing to the next patient. However, there is research that shows a nurse’s ability to exhibit empathy improves patient satisfaction scores, which is a strong argument the skill is important for nurses to learn.
Empathy Improves Clinical Outcomes
Global healthcare consultant McKinsey conducted a consumer health survey that showed patient satisfaction scores went up when clinical teams exhibited empathy. In fact, nurse empathy ranked higher in importance over all the other measures of patient satisfaction, including pain management, room environment and care outcomes.
Ironically, value-based reimbursement in the future will be strongly tied to these types of measurements, so the ability of the nursing team to exhibit empathy may actually reflect on how the hospital gets paid for their services.
Perhaps that’s why Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is attempting to teach clinicians the “art” of empathy, stating, “Empathy training enhances relationships, increases job satisfaction and improves patient outcomes.”
The training was based on clinical measurements that tracked micro-perspiration in the skin, heart rate, and the skin temperature of the clinician and patient during their interactions. When the interaction between caregiver and patient were upsetting, both showed measurable signs of stress. When the patient felt understood and the interaction was positive, the signs of stress abated. This data was correlated to more positive outcomes in patients with asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and osteoarthritis, according to the study.
How Do Nurses Exhibit Empathy?
Given the importance of empathy as an on-the-job skill, Nurse.com suggested that nurses practice the trait in the following ways:
- By stopping long enough to observe the situation.
- By genuinely suspending judgment.
- By attempting to understand the patient’s feelings.
- By communicating you do understand what it must be like to be in their situation.
Empathy is a powerful support tool for nurses to share with patients. To find out more about some of the skills you will need as a nurse, talk with the team at MAS Medical Staffing. We help match the skills of our clinical teams with medical roles in the field. Contact us to find out more.