The Importance of Empathy in Nursing

In nursing, treating patients with kindness and empathy is as much a part of your job as treating their illnesses and patching up wounds. Otherwise known as “bedside manner,” practicing empathy can be challenging at first, especially when you have so many other demands that need to be met throughout the day. However, you’ll soon see that empathy is absolutely vital in becoming a great nurse and helping as many patients as possible.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is being able to identify with the feelings and thoughts of others. As a nurse, you know very well that patients are not happy to be in the hospital. They are often afraid, sick, and in pain. As such, they may appear mean, belligerent, or rude. In practicing empathy, you must look past how the patient is acting and try to understand why they are acting that way. Generally, the negative attitudes seen in patients are because of frustration and fear. It is difficult for patients to get answers to their questions and they may feel ignored or looked over. They may be frightened of a potential diagnosis or be worried about the cost of healthcare they are receiving.

How to Practice Empathy

Empathy begins by putting yourself in their shoes. Instead of fixating on what the patient is doing that you don’t like, try to see things from their perspective. Have patience with them and talk with them. Find out what their major worries are. It is very possible that you won’t be able to really understand their fears. Maybe you’ve never been a patient in a hospital. Perhaps you’ve never had to worry about a lack of health insurance. That may all be true, but it’s important to find something in the patient that you can relate to.

Practicing empathy is also essential when dealing with the patient’s family members. Remember, these people are probably feeling a bit lost and out of control. Not only do they not know what to do to fix things, but they also have to sit by and watch their loved ones suffer through pain. If they appear to be rude or mean, remember that their frustration is with the situation and not directly with you or the doctor.

When dealing with patients, you need to refrain from judgment. Empathy does not allow for bias to enter treatment. For example, if you are treating a patient for obesity-related issues, do not judge them for a lack of self-control or laziness or whatever it is you think is contributing to their weight. Instead, get to know them a bit and see what their life is like. It might turn out that they don’t have the financial resources to eat healthily, or that their mental health is suffering and they prioritize meditation over running. Remember: everyone’s life is different and everyone is facing unique challenges that they must overcome.

Listening is Key

Every patient you encounter needs you to listen to them. Of course, listening is crucial so you understand physical symptoms and side effects the patient might be experiencing, but you should also listen to other things the patient expresses. If they talk about their family, they might be worried about who is taking care of them while they are in the hospital. If they discuss work issues, they might be frustrated that they can’t get back to work or are afraid of losing their job if they are away too long.

As a nurse, have genuine conversations with patients. Instead of simply discussing their health, get to know them on a more personal level. When they feel that someone sincerely cares about them, they’ll be much more at ease with the situation. The worst thing for a patient is feeling like an anonymous number on a chart.

Final Thoughts

Nursing is more than just charts, patients, and long hours. It is a profession that requires a lot on an emotional level. Good nurses practice empathy with their patients and others each and every day. If you find yourself struggling to practice empathy, hopefully the above information will help you develop it within yourself. But as you learn and make empathy a habit in your daily work, you will come to find that patients are more at ease and your job is made much less demanding.