It is not “does it matter” but rather a question of how much it matters. In this morning’s Washington Post (Health and Science), writers Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli talked about a 34-year old ICU patient who was also a physician. That physician, a practicing oncologist and former Chief of the Department of Medicine at Cooper Medical Center (Camden, NJ), was also on the staff of Pennsylvania Hospital; I remember him well. He was brilliant, kind, and empathic. Dr. Viner recalled that nurses were his “angels.” He emphasized that “When my nurses cared, I knew that shift would be a positive experience and that their compassion would help me fight on and help save me.” He could detect if the nurse coming on duty truly cared, and he realized that while some nurses care deeply, others do not.
The Post writers conducted a two-year literature search for scientific evidence that caring makes a difference. They focused on the effects of compassion for patients, patient care and those who provide that care. They discovered that compassionate care is associated with “vast benefits for patients across a wide variety of physical conditions and better psychological outcomes.” Research shows that it takes only 40 seconds for a healthcare provider to communicate compassion. Compassion does matter.
Now, think back to the beginning of your nursing career. Was it 5, 10, 15 or more years ago? What has changed about the time that you spend with patients? What now consumes the majority of your time in the clinical area? I recall the time as a student nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia when I cared for a worker from the shipyards named Mr. O’Shea. He was one of 8 patients to whom I was assigned on a medical ward, and we developed a strong relationship. Perhaps, looking back, I was too compassionate; I was able to spend a great deal of time with Mr. O’Shea. He ate when I was present and had no interest in oral nutrition when I was off-duty. Early in his hospitalization, I had an emergency appendectomy and was out of work for a month. During that time, I was told that Mr. O’Shea asked for me on a daily basis. His condition deteriorated, and three weeks later, he passed away. As a naïve student, I thought that it was my fault. After all, he would have eaten had I been there. Perhaps he would have eventually recovered because I was compassionate.
Do you have 40 seconds during a patient encounter to truly listen, to hold a hand, to wipe a brow, and to say, “I am here for you.” Do you have time for kindness and compassion?