long-term nursing care

Why is compassion so important in long-term nursing care?


When asked what the core traits of a nurse should be, most will answer that nurses should always be knowledgeable, attentive, and ready to take on a challenge. These are, of course, all teachable qualities and are essential for nursing success. However, compassion is just as important as these three traits.

Nurses are perceived as kind, caring people who do their best for their patients – it stands to reason that compassion is a must-have in this often-intensive career path. Compassion can also make all the difference in a patient’s care and impact how quickly they recover from certain conditions.

When it comes to long-term care, vulnerable people need a special level of support and acknowledgment. Without compassion, many people could feel scared about what will happen next. But what exactly is compassion in long-term nursing, why is it so important, and how can education help nurses develop compassion further?

What is compassion?

Compassion is easy to define in different ways, and most people have their own definitions and experiences. In nursing, however, compassion means developing relationships with patients based on trust, understanding, and care. Actively listening, taking their time with patients, and going the extra mile to show they care are all ways of demonstrating compassion in nursing.

Compassion describes the ability for one person to put themselves in another’s position and to appreciate what they might be going through. It is a human link that helps nurses ensure patients receive the support they need through clear communication.

Why is compassion so important in long-term nursing?

While much of nursing success boils down to nurses’ technical aptitude on the job, attitude and attentiveness account for a lot of the care quality patients can expect when going into the hospital.

Anyone who wants to become a long term care nurse (which is possible through studying, gaining experience, and finding a specialism) will learn about the facets of compassion early on. In fact, Marymount University’s courses and online guides provide superb insight into how to foster compassion even if it does not come naturally.

So, why is compassion such a key facet of long-term care nursing and why for nurses is it worth showing kindness and understanding in all they do?

Compassion helps nurses get to know patients better

Long-term care can be scary and unpleasant for many people, especially the elderly and/or those who might not have many family members to support them. By showing compassion, nurses’ long-term patients will feel more comfortable and safer with their oversight. Only when they feel comfortable and safe will they start to open up about their ailments and how they are feeling.

Being more open will make nurses more aware of their patients’ needs and what they can do to help or even save them in times of crisis. Actively listening to patients and observing current needs will ensure nurses follow the best paths to care provision.

Compassion helps reassure patients

Long-term care isn’t a pleasant experience for many people, meaning some patients might feel closed-off, angry, or emotional regarding their care and their declining health. However, having a compassionate nurse helps these patients feel more supported, seen, and heard. This support alone is immensely beneficial on the road to recovery, as patients feel reassured that treatment is going well and know exactly what to expect next – no one is left in the dark.

Compassion helps nurses pick up on unspoken concerns

Not all patients feel open to speak freely at first or even during their entire care experience. It can be incredibly difficult to open up about private and medical affairs to someone they do not know well.

By showing compassion, nurses’ long-term patients will feel more at ease and may even share hidden details that nurses need to know to provide the best care possible. This is incredibly important should patients struggle to communicate verbally or feel particularly closed-off.

Long-term care nurses will likely spend more time with their patients than their doctors or other healthcare professionals, so paying attention to sensitive details is key. By spending more time with patients, learning about who they are, how they move, act, and so on, nurses can identify potential areas of concern that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. This can help detect underlying issues, injuries, or other issues the patient might not be willing or able to discuss. Compassion, ultimately, helps to drive insight into patients’ needs. It really is amazing how powerful a little kindness can be!

Compassion instills confidence in patients during tense periods

Compassion must come from a place of understanding. Showing patients compassion can help them feel more secure, more trusting in the care provided, and more confident in their progress.

By remaining calm, attentive, and understanding, nurses show their patients that are competent and care enough to provide them with the best possible care. It Is hard for a patient to feel confident when they are unwell or diagnosed with an aggressive condition. However, the most compassionate and talented nurses can turn these feelings of doubt and worry around.

Compassion shows patients their nurses respect them

Nurses cannot show compassion to their patients without first showing respect. Even on the most challenging days, a nurse must respect their patients fully. This applies even when they may not be returning the favor! By showing compassion, nurses also demonstrate that they respect their needs and right to a life without suffering.

Compassion helps nurses explain complex information to patients

No one likes delivering bad news, and even fewer people like hearing it, especially regarding health. This is especially the case in long-term healthcare, where conditions may be particularly severe or even life-threatening. However, all long-term care nurses understand that, at some point during their career, they will face the challenge of having to explain difficult data to patients.

They cannot simply repeat the information available on conditions and treatments as-is. The way nurses deliver information is key. A nurse delivering complex details must be calm, collected, and compassionate. As a result, their patients will be far more receptive to new information and more likely to listen and follow the care plans their nurses present.

Nurses enjoy their work more when compassionate

The heart of being a nurse is connecting with others. It can be easy some days to become too attached to numbers on charts and forget the human element of nursing.

However, by remaining compassionate with patients, nurses are far more likely to develop meaningful exchanges and even relationships, which will naturally be more enjoyable than building relationships with documents and data alone.

Nurses enjoy their work more when helping patients who are happy to see them and who are more receptive to the care they receive.

Nurses become more confident with compassion

Compassion isn’t the key to getting everything right in nursing, but it does make a huge difference. In a job where no two days are the same and confidence is essential, anything that can help build up these qualities is worth committing to.

Being compassionate drives more positive patient interactions and assures better care results overall. Ultimately, compassionate practice, over time, makes for much more confident nurses.

How can education help long-term care nurses develop compassion?

While much of the compassionate work long-term care nurses do will develop on the job, education plays a huge part in laying down the foundations for how they approach patients throughout their career. Nursing education isn’t just about learning medical techniques or which medicines will likely deliver the best results.

During any nursing degree or educational program, long-term care nurses dive deep into compassionate practice and understand why it is a cornerstone of quality care. Here are some ways nurses can learn compassion while studying and training in practice.

Nurses will learn communication skills

Not everyone is naturally adept at communicating. It can be even more difficult to communicate efficiently when dealing with someone needing serious care or a patient who is not receptive to long-term treatment. This is where education comes in.

Although communication skills seem to come naturally for some, nursing degrees and programs help people develop transferable skills across their careers. During a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or equivalent, nurses will learn how to communicate with all kinds of patients, respecting their cultures, situations, current health issues, and individual choices. Being compassionate is great, but showing and communicating that compassion is key.

Nurses learn how to approach difficult subject matters

All long-term care nurses must face handling difficult subjects regarding their patients. For example, they may need to inform their patients that current care isn’t producing the expected results, or that they may need more extensive treatment. Nurses will also frequently need to notify families and loved ones of the patients’ current or potential state.

During a nursing degree and while building work experience, long-term care nurses can practice compassionate care and discussions through role play. While an eagerness to learn and get started is healthy, long-term care nurses in training must be ready to approach often life-threatening cases with compassion and understanding. There will be ample opportunities to practice these skills during education, whether through group activity, role play, or by shadowing others on placements.

Role play is extremely important

Role play activities provide many opportunities for nursing students to explore how to treat real-life cases and what to do in an emergency regarding a long-care patient.

Role play during nursing education involves students interacting in split roles between nurse and patient. Educators will observe these activities and let their students know what they expect from them by graduation.

While it is possible to build compassion while working directly with patients in long-term care, it Is recommended that anyone studying for this career path practice extensively before they start working on real cases. Thankfully, role play in nursing education is highly supported and available both remotely and in-person.

Nurses can shadow qualified nurses in placements and learn on the job

While it is never advisable to start learning how to treat patients in real-life scenarios without some support, shadowing and mentorship during clinical placements provide nurses with compassionate experience they can apply to real cases further down the line.

People learn in different ways, and placements allow graduates to develop compassion skills by watching and doing. There will always be support from trained nurses and specialists who can ensure students provide the best level of care possible to those in need.

While it might seem that compassion is a trait developed over time naturally rather than learning as part of education, both can be true. Education through placements can help nurses learn where certain compassionate practices are most effective, and how to approach particularly difficult or sensitive cases.

Nurses can learn from previous cases and extensive history

With any nursing degree, there will always be an opportunity to learn more about how nurses applied care and supported their patients in previous years and decades. However, it is a misconception that theoretical study only ever applies to learning about technique.

In many cases, students can learn about how others have applied compassion to patient care to produce positive results. These may arise in case studies, for example, where tutors may share positive stories to inspire students to follow a compassionate line while studying and working in a real setting.

Beyond this, some nursing courses will also allow students to speak directly with experienced long-term care nurses. They might have the opportunity to listen to a seminar on a nurse’s experiences in long-term care or join a question-and-answer session. These opportunities help nurses flesh out an understanding of compassion so that it is easier to apply in practice.

Of course, previous cases and precedents never completely denote what nurses should do or follow in their everyday roles. When it comes to complex cases such as those in long-term care, it is reasonable to expect nurses to apply a range of different techniques and compassionate practices to ensure their patients recover smoothly and feel fully supported.

Learning techniques builds confidence and thus compassion

When learning techniques and practices in long-term nursing care, students are likely to become more confident through repetition and guidance from educators. Technique is crucial for long-term nursing care success. Alongside learning how to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues, all nurses should know how to diagnose and treat specific cases and conditions.

With a greater understanding of these techniques and how to approach complex situations, long-term care nurses become confident in working autonomously and providing the best possible support to their patients. This allows them to become more compassionate, as nurses with confidence in their treatment choices can communicate such decisions with greater clarity and kindness to the people in their care.

Compassion matters and it can be learned

Compassion is a relatively broad term in nursing that can encompass many things. It can relate to nurses acting to make sure patients are comfortable or simply taking time with them to listen about their days, families, and concerns.

Ultimately, compassion in long-term care nursing is all about making sure people feel supported, valued, and that those who care for them do so genuinely and without question. Compassion might be difficult to build in some circumstances, but it is the backbone of patient support simply because all the techniques and diagnostic decisions made follow a careful ‘bedside manner.’

When training to become a long-term care nurse, students will learn early on that there are many different learning theories for healthcare practices. Crucially, no two days in this line of work will ever be the same.

However, what doesn’t change is that compassion should be at the heart of everything nurses do. In long-term healthcare where elderly and vulnerable patients often face frightening circumstances, their number one need will always be a friendly face who, while skilled, is willing to put their heart into everything they do.

While nurses cannot be effective without technical skills, they also cannot be an effective caregiver without compassion and kindness. Thankfully, there are ways and means for students to develop compassion while studying alongside building up technical understanding such as how to treat specific conditions.

Every patient needs compassion from nurses and care providers, especially those who need long-term care and more intensive support.

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