Health Care

The Power of Compassion Professional Registered Nurses are Compassionate People

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"The Power of Compassion Professional Registered Nurses are Compassionate People"
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When discussing compassion for others, it is apparent that the gift and power of compassion is evident in nursing, as professional registered nurses are compassionate people. Professional registered nurses demonstrate genuine compassion for their patients. Many registered nurses also recognize the power of compassion with regard to the healing, health and wholeness of others. As well, they perceive compassion as being a contributing factor to the happiness of people everywhere.

If you asked others the same question, "are registered nurses compassionate people?" some people might respond with a yes, while others may disagree totally, as not everyone perceives registered nurses as being compassionate.

Compassion for others is becoming increasingly important in our era. At the same time, there are not enough registered nurses to satisfy the rapidly expanding nursing care demands of people all around the world. That does not suggest that registered nurses do not have compassion for others; it does state that there is a growing shortage of registered nurses. More registered nurses need to be trained now, as well as in the future in order to meet the increased global demands for compassionate health care.

What does it really mean for professional registered nurses to have compassion with regard to the nursing care of their patients? First of all, registered nurses are people and compassion can mean different things to different people. Not all people are compassionate by nature and in general, they show varying degrees of compassion at different times, with different people and in different situations. That is normal. While many people demonstrate very high levels of compassion, others show lower levels of compassion or appear to have total non-compassion for others. Registered nurses have high levels of compassion for others, or they would not have become registered nurses.

Compare two levels of compassion, namely divine compassion and human compassion.

Divine compassion

Divine compassion is the kind of compassion depicted by the life of Christ, as He entered into the human situation to bring about the act of redemption for mankind. Only He can portray divine compassion which would also be perfect compassion.

Human compassion

Human compassion is the kind of compassion that people exhibit for one another. At best, it is imperfect compassion because it is human and not divine. Registered nurses often show a very high degree of divine Christ-like compassion for others, while the majority of human beings show compassion limited to the realm of human compassion.

Defining the words compassion and compassionate in conjunction with their practical application in the nursing profession will help to determine what true compassion really means.


The word compassion' is derived from the fourteenth century Latin word compati, which means to sympathize with another person. It also includes having sympathetic consciousness of another's distress and the desire to alleviate it. (1)


The word compassionate is used to portray a person who has, or shows compassion for, and to others.

A compassionate person exhibits, demonstrates or grants compassion to another person because of unusual distressing circumstances, affecting an individual. The word compassionate is also used in conjunction with the expression to pity. (2)

How does one appropriately portray what compassion signifies in terms of the professional nursing care of patients? Sympathy and empathy are terms that are always used nursing.


Sympathy is defined as an affinity, association or relationship between persons or things, wherein whatever affects one, similarly affects the other. (3)

A good example of sympathy is the awareness of birth pangs experienced by a husband when his wife is in labor. He experiences sympathy pains. A person demonstrating sympathy takes on the same plight as another human being and experiences or feels what the other person experiences or feels.


Empathy is defined as the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object, so that the object appears to be infused with it. Empathy is also the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously expressing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another, of either the past or present, without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objective, explicit manner or the capacity for this. (4)

What this means is that in empathy, there is an appropriate distance established in a relationship between two people. It allows a person to take an objective approach to something, as opposed to a subjective approach. For example, a professional registered nurse would not feel the birth pangs of a woman in labor even though he or she would be acutely aware of them with regard to the patient. He or she would attempt to relieve the patient's distress through appropriate nursing care measures and thus empathize with the patient or demonstrate empathetic compassion.

Compassion in its practical application for professional registered nurses, must be based on empathy rather than sympathy. To work effectively as a professional registered nurse, invariably requires a degree of distancing oneself from a patient. In fact, that is vital to survival as a registered nurse. Try another example, namely that of a patient with a disease entity of some kind. A registered nurse cannot be infected by the same disease as a patient and then expect to function in the capacity of a registered nurse as the professional caregiver, at the same time. Thus, the registered nurse must take appropriate precautions to ensure that he or she does not become ill. If this means wearing a gown, gloves and a mask, that is what needs to be done even if the patient objects to this. This is often perceived by patients as nurses distancing themselves from them.

Sympathy would put the registered nurse in the position of having the same disease entity or the same symptoms of the disease that the patient manifests. He or she would not be able to take care of the patient effectively. Empathy would distance the registered nurse in such a way that he or she would be able to take care of the patient. He or she would not have the disease or the disease symptoms.

Registered nurses are compassionate people, whether they are perceived to be compassionate or not. The compassion that they manifest to others may not be understood by others as being compassion because registered nurses do have to distance themselves from their patients in order to take care of them properly in an objective, rather than a subjective manner. Many people have very high, but often unrealistic expectations of registered nurses. They think that those who distance themselves from patients demonstrate non-compassion, not compassion.

Becoming a participant in the patient's entire scenario by engaging in sympathy is not going to help a patient. Assuming a kind and gentle manner, a loving and caring attitude along with an empathetic stand, empowers registered nurses to function in a professional capacity, with regard to nursing care. True compassion places the registered nurse in a position where the patient can receive compassionate, empathetic nursing care. Thus, there is power in having compassion for others, as long as that compassion remains empathetic. The moment a registered nurse becomes too involved with a patient and resorts to sympathy, or pity for the patient, the capacity to be a caregiver diminishes. Empathy may seem like a tough love kind of compassion but it is true compassion and it does demonstrate power in terms of the healing, health, happiness and wholeness of others.

Registered nurses are compassionate people who show empathy, rather than sympathy and thus they are able to demonstrate the true power of Christ-like compassion, with regard to administering professional nursing care to patients.

1. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Mass., 1983 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid.

More about this author: W. Diane Van Zwol

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