What takes nurses beyond just having medical knowledge and skills is their ability to care for the emotional needs of a patient. (Barkin, 2011, as cited in Davies, N. 2014) Through experience, nurses gain qualities that enhance their care for their patients. It is through interactions with patients and their families that nurses gain insight into their patients’ lives and can improve their quality of care. Nursing requires equal amounts of care for their physical needs as well as their mental and emotional needs. It can be difficult to care for their emotional needs but by using empathy and building a collaborative partnership, this can aid in fostering a trusting relationship. Building a rapport with the patient can allow them to feel safe sharing with the nurse. Having someone in which they trust and feel comfortable with can help ease their stress. These qualities help a nurse go above and beyond to ensure the patient is receiving the best care.
I believe one of the most important qualities a nurse can possess is empathy. At the core, empathy is sharing the patient’s pain and making their struggle feel validated. (Davies, N. 2014, p.198) Empathy can be described as a four-component model. (Morse et al, 1992, as cited in Davies, N. 2014, p. 199) Each model shows the different sides of empathy, each one being equally as important. The first stage of developing empathy is moral empathy. This is defined as “the unconditional acceptance of another human being for the simple reason that they are human”. (Morse et al., 1992, as cited in Davies, N. p. 199) This concept is the root of empathy as it is the genuine care to help others and a compassion towards all. (Davies, N. 2014, p. 199) Empathy can be further expanded on through cognitive empathy. This is the ability for the nurses to be able to consider their patient’s situation and therefore understand what they are experiencing. (p. 199) Cognitive empathy is especially important for nurses as patients are not always open and willing to share how they are feeling. As a nurse, being able to put yourself in their perspective can allow you to understand what they might be experiencing and allows for you to connect with them. There is also a behavioral aspect of empathy, this involves the nurse actively listening and showing the patient that they understand. (Davies, N. 2014, p. 199) This can be done through non-verbal communication such as maintaining eye contact and using touch when appropriate. (p. 199) The last type of empathy is emotive empathy; it can be defined as “the capacity to perceive and share the patient’s feelings”. (Hojet et al, 2002, as cited in Davies, N. 2014) Empathy, as outlined in the four models of empathy, is a very important quality for a nurse to possess. It can significantly help with patient care, the patient’s recovery and their emotional well-being. As a coach for gymnastics, I have experienced many times where I had to use empathy. One situation being when a child from the gymnastics center went missing in the university. While the other coaches went to look for the child, I stayed behind to comfort the mother. She was very stressed and panicked. I used empathy to try and help her relax, I put myself in her shoes to understand the stress she must be experiencing. I paraphrased her concerns to let her know that I heard her concerns and that I was actively listening. I found that using non-verbal communication worked well in this situation. I listened to her concerns and used techniques such as eye contact and smiling at appropriate times. After a few minutes of expressing her feelings to me, she calmed down. Through this experience, I learnt the importance of empathy and how it can be a very useful tool to build a trusting relationship. It showed me how having someone to listen to her concerns and empathized with her helped calm her down and make her feel safer. I think that this shows how important the four models of empathy are in everyday life but most importantly with patients in the hospital. Patients and family members in the hospital are going to be experiencing a very high level of stress and will turn to nurses to express their concerns and feelings, being able to empathize with them will help ease their worries. When using empathy with patients it is crucial to be self-aware and understand the difference between sympathy and empathy. Going forward in practice and in my life, I hope to improve on this area and be more conscious of when to use each type of communication skill. Sympathy can result in the patient feeling pitied rather than feeling validated which is the purpose of empathy. (Davies, N. 2014, p.198) Sympathy can lead to separation between the nurse and the patient as we set ourselves apart from them. (p.198) For these reasons, I believe it is important to understand the difference between them. Empathy is a major aspect of nursing and a necessary skill for communicating with patients. I believe through my experiences as a gymnastics coach, I have developed a good understanding of empathy and feel confident using it. Now that I have a better understanding of the differences between sympathy and empathy, I believe this is an area I can continue to improve in. This can be accomplished through being more self-aware of the situation and assessing when it is an appropriate time to use each of them.
A nurse-patient relationship can be complicated and hard to navigate. Every patient has different needs and has different expectations from what will be gained from the relationship. A nurse and patient play different roles due to power differential but through collaboration this power dynamic can shift. Nurses and patients collaborate when they both work towards achieving a common goal. (Downie et al., 2001, p. 27) The situation, needs, and well-being of the patient contributes to the distribution of power. (Gottlieb, L.N & Feeley, N. 2006, p. 28) Power sharing is essential for the patient to feel as though they have a say in their plan of care. (p. 28) I experienced this when my grandmother was in the hospital. As there were a flurry of doctors and nurses coming in and out of the room discussing her status, there was one nurse who stood out to me. For us, the medical terms they were using sounded like another language. This nurse took the time to explain everything to us and help us understand in simpler terms what was happening. She asked my grandmother how she wanted to proceed with her plan of care which led her to feel as though she was a part of the decision. She went above and beyond to ensure my grandma felt as though she had a voice and was cared for. She developed a trusting relationship with my family through sharing power and collaborating. As explained by Jackie Townshend, when a family receives a diagnosis it can leave them feeling powerless. By sharing power and collaborating with them it can help them regain some power, this can be accomplished by learning about their illness and learning of ways to deal with them. (Gottlieb, L.N & Feeley, N. 2006, p. 29) This example resonated with me as this was how my family and I felt during this time. Having health care professionals talking over us and using words we couldn’t comprehend made us feel powerless. Having someone take the time to make sure we understood what was to come helped us gain some power back. Our experience showed me that a nurse can go above and beyond by collaborating with the patient and their family to make them feel safe and make sure they feel heard.
In conclusion, nurses possess many important qualities which help them develop trusting relationships with their patients; empathy and collaborative partnerships being two essential ones. When a nurse shows empathy towards a patient it builds trust between them as the nurse shares in their pain and “communicates on the same vantage point”. (Davies, N. 2014, p. 198) For this reason, showing empathy is vital when establishing a rapport with the patient. A collaborative partnership is equally as important as it builds a strong, working relationship. (Acorn, 1990, Donnelly et al., 1994, McKenna & Roberts, 1998, as cited in Downie et al., 2001, p. 27) Together these qualities build a trusting relationship with the patient and ensures that the patient’s emotional and physical needs are cared for.
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