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Dear Patients, I Walk the Line. Yours Sincerely, Registered Nurse

Nurses must sympathize with patients to provide the complete realm of care ethically required of them. When nurses personally relate to a patient’s suffering, sympathy becomes empathy—involving a true sharing of another’s pain.

Nurses must sympathize with patients to provide the complete realm of care ethically required of them.  When nurses personally relate to a patient’s suffering, sympathy becomes empathy—involving a true sharing of another’s pain.

Does Sympathy Really Make a Difference?

Patients who have compassionate, sympathetic nurses develop more positive attitudes toward healing.  A 2007 study conducted by Helen Wilkin and Professor Jo Silvester of City University in Great Britain, found that nurses lacking sympathy and empathy caused patients to lose confidence in treatment causing poor compliance.  These patients also suffered fear, anxiety, and depression. Nurses seek to facilitate the healing of the whole person.  Showing true sympathy or empathy for a patient’s pain and offering reassurance is an important part of treating holistically.

Barriers

Some barriers that block nurses’ ability to truly sympathize with patient include low job satisfaction, concern for personal well being, lack of time and burnout.  Unsupportive co-workers can cause workplace anxiety that precludes nurses from actively listening to patients; thus blocking the conveyance of sympathetic communications.

Considerations

Over empathizing with patients comes with dangers for the healthcare professional.  Nurses and physicians who empathize to the point of internally experiencing a version of the patient’s pain run the risk of becoming depressed, fatigued, or burned-out.  These professionals may quickly exhaust all personal stress management techniques leading to a number of negative emotional manifestations.

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Walking the Line Between Sympathy and a Hard Heart

The solution, of course, is not for nurses to harden their hearts toward the pain and suffering they witness, but to learn to attenuate their natural emotional response to the environment around them.  This is a hard balance to achieve and it takes dedicated practice. Nurses must avoid becoming hard and cynical, but keep the gentle understanding necessary to connect with patients.  In this way, they will provide a high standard of care while maintaining a healthy grasp on their personal stress levels and anxieties.

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