Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Compassionate Leadership: The Time is Now, and the Need is Urgent

February 4, 2021

We make many demands of our nurses. We expect their clinical knowledge and practice to be informed by the best research, their response to our needs to be immediate, and their ability to care for us to be flawless. Without us having to tell them anything. On top of that, we want them to be kind, compassionate, and be personal with us. The list of demands is endless. And, with COVID-19 overwhelming the whole health system, nurses have borne more of the burden of care, suffered their own grief in silence, and shown up every day, no matter their own exhaustion.

So how do we care for our nurses? At what point do we acknowledge that the defining difference between the nurse and the patient is only acuity. Acuity can change in a moment. The fickleness of acuity is apparent in how many of our clinicians, including physicians and nurses, have succumbed to COVID-19.

In their system-wide practice of compassion as an organizational ethic, The National Health System (NHS) in Britain has long known that compassion is a daily practice, not only moral ethic. In a NHS blog written in March 2020, The NHS called on compassionate leadership to address the ongoing and deep-seeded needs of nurses during COVID-19.

Although the differences between the American and British healthcare systems have been well documented, the respective needs of their clinical and non-clinical staff are more similar than different. The response to being treated with compassion and practicing in a compassionate culture is your employees and team will feel more positive, reassured, and regenerative.

From the NHS Annual Kings Fund Summit, “Compassionate leadership in practice means leaders listening with fascination to those they lead, arriving at a shared (rather than imposed) understanding of the challenges they face, empathizing with and caring for them, and then taking action to help or support them.”

When applying that statement to the current state of American healthcare, you can pull the following steps to operationalize compassionate leadership:

  1. Listen with interest and curiosity
  2. Empathize with their concerns
  3. Demonstrate and care for your nurses on a consistent basis
  4. Act on their concerns and needs in a timely manner

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a surge of public acknowledgment for the front-line workers. Now, we have pandemic fatigue and the efforts to be visibly grateful to frontline workers has dissipated.

Going back to the NHS blog, the authors bluntly call out the long-held tendency to “command and control” amid an emergency. However, the crisis we are in currently, calls for us to go to a higher plane of human caring.

Dr. Jean Watson in her theory of Human Caring, calls for nurses to practice loving-kindness and equanimity to self and others. She says, “Compassionate leadership is the most potent way people can deal with what feels frightening and overwhelming and leaders need to focus compassion on all those who provide health and care services whatever their role or grade.”

Compassion is a daily practice that every leader wherever they work can apply but is especially important for those on the frontline of this pandemic. We can offer compassion regardless of the urgency that surrounds us.

How are you bringing compassion into your workplace and what does compassionate leadership look like to you? Send me an email with your thoughts: smazer@healinghealth.com.

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