Stress is a normal and necessary part of life. However, prolonged emotional tension takes stress to a new level for many people, including oncology nurses. But what is the antidote to cumulative pressure? The evidence for compassion’s benefits during stress is compelling.

What the Research Tells Us

Compassion is a two-way principle where both the giver and receiver are rewarded. Alternatively, when compassion is lacking, patients and caregivers suffer. Compassion fatigue ultimately leads to emotional exhaustion and reduced self-value, both classic signs of burnout.

Burnout is a true healthcare emergency that can lead to medical errors, increased healthcare costs, lost productivity, frustration, and ultimately withdrawal. Nurses have implicated burnout as a reason for leaving the profession for years, and pandemic-related stress continued the exodus, creating a vicious cycle of increased workloads and lack of resources.

However, research affirms that practicing compassion can bust burnout, restore a resilient workforce, and positively affect patient outcomes.

How to Practice

Compassion in health care stems from three factors: intentionality, commonality, and quality (see sidebar).

Practice Compassion in Health Care

Intentionality is an important motivator in generating change. For instance, when you have the desire to extend compassion to a patient or coworker, you are not faking it, even if you must dig deep to produce a compassionate response. Setting your intention is the key factor in initiating a genuine effort.

Commonality involves recognizing shared attributes of the human condition. We all have the basic need to be seen and cared for by others. If you see someone’s alikeness to yourself, empathy and compassion come easier. Research shows we are more likely to be compassionate to others when we view them as just like ourselves.

Quality health care and a renewal of purpose can occur when compassionate care is at the forefront of oncology nursing. Not only does the recipient benefit from intentionally directed empathy and compassion, but the caregiver who is extending the compassion does too. Acts of compassion can also improve ongoing relationships.

More evidence about the use of compassion in health care is available online.