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What does compassion mean to you?

Practitioners and researchers share their thoughts on what compassionate care is.
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PROFESSOR BRENDAN MCCORMACK: To me, compassion is really about paying attention to the person, thinking about the person first in whatever shape or form that person is in and whatever context I’m in. So it’s always about starting to pay attention to where they’re at, whatever that relationship might be, and then trying to think through how I can hold all the essence of the person in the next part of that relationship, however it might evolve. So it’s really about a starting point for connecting with other people.
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MARGOT MCCULLOCH: It is about warmth. It’s about kindness. It’s about sympathy. It’s about empathy. It’s about being human. It’s all of those things. But for me additionally, it’s about an individual. Everyone’s different. And in order to be compassionate, I need to realize that what matters to one person might not matter to someone else. DR.
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ELAINE LEE: In the context of clinical practice, compassion is about individuals and meeting the needs of those individuals. Any midwife will tell you that the word “midwife” means with woman. And that concept of being with woman, understanding the woman, looking after the woman as she needs to and wants to be looked after, that, to me, is compassion. Compassion isn’t about deciding what somebody needs or providing the type of care that you think is right. It’s about really understanding an individual, how they articulate compassion, what they need to feel cared for and looked after, and an understanding that you can adapt what you do. You can provide evidence-based care.
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You can provide good care that’s slightly different for each person because it’s what they want, it’s what they need, and it’s what they understand as being looked after. And that, for me, is compassion. It’s simply about knowing somebody, caring about them and providing what they want.
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MAIRI O’KEEFE: It’s the effect of warm understanding of somebody else’s situation or plight. It is very important that it is warm and loving. But it’s also a verb in the fact that it’s a doing aspect, even if it’s just listening. That is, you’re listening. If it is finding a solution to something, that’s a doing word as well. But is very important that it comes off as very professional, and it’s customer service, and it’s respect, and warm and love, absolute love.
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PROFESSOR MARY RENFREW: Compassion, to me, is certainly being nice to people. It’s also much, much more than that. It’s about respect, treating people with respect at all times. It’s about care and caring about individual needs. So that actually, you don’t treat people as if they’re one size fits all. You treat them according to their own individual needs, and wishes and circumstances. And it’s about responding to people so that you’re not just caring to or onto someone. You’re actually having a human interaction that’s respectful and responsive with all those kind human attributes of courtesy, and care and kindness.
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But at the heart of it, there’s respect that this is another human being that you are in the position of looking after, the privileged position of looking after.
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MARGOT MCCULLOCH: One thing that sticks in my mind from years ago was a post-operative patient who came back to the ward. He was quite unwell, needed a lot of interventions. But one thing he kept asking me was whether or not I could change him out of his surgical gown into his pajamas. To the wider team, that wasn’t important. But to him, that was. And we also made sure that clinically he was safe. As soon as possible, I washed his hands, washed his face, cleaned his teeth for him and changed him out of his gown into his own pajamas that his wife had brought in. That’s just what we should be doing. But for him, it meant a lot.
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I got a lovely thank you card from him and from his friendly saying for everything else that was done, he thanked the surgeons and everyone else. But for him, that small piece of human kindness, as he called it, meant everything to him. It made him feel human. It made him feel him. It made him feel personalized, because he felt depersonalized in a surgical gown. And so for me, that’s actually at the root of compassionate caring as a nurse, or it’s an example of.
How do you describe compassion?
In this video, you’ll hear from practitioners, researchers and academics about what compassion means to them, in their own words. Throughout the course, we’ll look at the different ways that people describe compassion.

Questions for discussion

  • How is compassion described and experienced?
  • Is it grand gestures, or small acts?
  • What does it look like?
  • What words do people use to explain this intangible concept?
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Compassionate Care: Getting it Right

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