Compassion lost in translation

Published 27 September 2018

Compassion. Of all places, you would expect to find it in a hospital, right? But what does compassion look and feel like? Whether a patient believes they have received compassionate treatment or a nurse thinks they have behaved compassionately can easily be lost in translation in a busy ward.

However, compassion is a cornerstone of hospital care, and University of New England PhD student Joanne Durkin is intent on cracking the code for how it is expressed and received.

"Health practitioners are dealing with turmoil and suffering every day in hospital, and the normal emotional rules don't apply," Joanne said. "Compassion is demanded of staff without agreement on what it actually is. Patients don't always know or express what they want, beyond wanting staff to spend time with them. Equally, a nurse may define compassion as making sure that the patient receives their medication on time, to relieve their pain, which takes them away from the bedside."

Even having worked in a large teaching hospital in the United Kingdom, where she ran a course titled Delivering Compassionate Care, Joanne is the first to admit that compassion is poorly understood and articulated. It can also be a victim of time and staffing shortfalls.

"I expect this study will have direct implications for staff training and professional development, but staff also need organisational support and time to be compassionate," she said. "This not only improves patient care and recovery rates, but also levels of staff satisfaction."

Joanne is seeking health professionals and patients from around Australia to describe their recent hospital experiences of compassion during a short interview. Contact Joanne on for more details.