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Christine Paul Cardenas

Empathy in Nursing Practice

We should show empathy not only to our patients and their families but also to our fellow nurses and ourselves. Here are some ways that you can show empathy in nursing practice.

Living in the United States of America is like experiencing a little piece of the world. It is a melting pot of cultures and a beacon of hope for the world. However, in the busy hustle-and-bustle of our everyday lives, how often do we take the time to look out for each other

In nursing practice, we provide around-the-clock pain management as our patients often suffer from varying degrees of pain and discomfort. The doctors tell us to give pain medication every 4-6 hours and we do it. We always assess them and give them some pain medicine as prescribed, a hot/cold pack and more. But do we take time to sit there and show empathy? Not always.

As a nurse, it seems like we have millions of things to do. Patients need medicine for their physical pain in a healthcare setting, but sometimes they want someone to talk to – especially when they are depressed, afraid or anxious.

The ability to understand and share feelings is so vital now more than ever in nursing practice but it is also multifaceted. We should show empathy not only to our patients and their families but also to our fellow nurses and ourselves. Here are some ways that you can show empathy in nursing practice:

Why Show Empathy Anyway?

If nurses were to regularly support each other and practice empathy, we might make our work lives a little easier and less intense. We might even find we become more at peace with ourselves and others.

According to Norwich University Online, nurses who show empathy have greater job satisfaction and experience less stress and burnout. Empathetic nurses better understand their patients’ needs, putting the patients at ease to discuss their problems and concerns. This also positively impacts patients. When receiving empathetic care, patients exhibit less anxiousness, improved self-concept and lower levels of depression and hostility.

Caring for Yourself

I get it, a nurse’s job is busy. You need to multi-task. You need to follow up with doctors about updates on your patient’s condition. If you are a truly dedicated nurse you might even end up not taking your break time. I get it. I’m a nurse, too.

In the middle of your shift, you may have encountered strong-willed personalities and stressful situations. I know I have. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are under a lot of pressure just like nurses. One piece of advice is to tough it out, but the truth is not everyone is “tough” to begin with. Some are sensitive and it’s not wrong to be one.

We need to take breaks when we’re feeling tired. We need to remind ourselves that not every nurse starts with 30 years of experience. We need to remind ourselves that we are teammates, not opponents in a chess game. We need to remind ourselves that no one starts any career with years and years of experience under their belts and of course - not to take everything personally. 

Support Other Nurses

We’re here to support each other. You may encounter a situation in which you are right and a co-worker may be wrong, but it must be addressed professionally and handled maturely. The truth is, we only see the tip of the iceberg. We do not know what a person is going through until they open to us. 

We need to practice more patience and empathy with new nurses especially considering the pandemic.

Didn’t we all start with zero experience? Admit it, you started as a new grad, too. You had to learn from scratch. Just because we now have more experience doesn’t mean we are better nurses, it means that we should step up as leaders!

The shortage of nurses across the United States is still ongoing. According to a news report from CNN, during the pandemic the healthcare system can't afford to lose good nurses. We should encourage and support one another. Nursing is a powerful and important career, so let’s make sure that we make our fellow nurses feel empowered in their roles!

Caring for Patients

When it comes to giving empathy, it’s important to remember that we all have our differences in background, age, health, jobs, sexual orientation, cultures, political views and religions. We might not even understand everyone around us because we’re so different from one another. You don’t have to bully, hurt or verbally attack somebody just because your religious or cultural beliefs are different. You don’t have to have the same beliefs in life but you should make your patients feel as though they belong and that they are your #1 priority.

As nurses, we are taught to live the golden rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. What happens to them can also happen to you at any given anytime. Things can change in an instant and what you did to them on purpose happens back to you.

We are in America where freedom and diversity should be celebrated. We take pride in celebrating every invention, occasion and every winning moment. My hope is one day our support with each other will be just as important as the clinical skill of wound care that we do for our wounded patients. I hope that one-day, empathy becomes as common as over-the-counter medications. Through empathy, everything else we face becomes a little more bearable, a little less painful and a lot more worth waking up for.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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