One dictionary defines Kindness as going out of your way to be nice to someone or to show a person you care. Other definitions say kindness embodies generosity, selflessness and love. Compassion one dictionary states is, caring more about the thoughts and feelings of others than your own, another definition says compassion is, a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune. The question is for those of us that work in healthcare are kindness and compassion just words banded about at the many conferences and meetings we attend, or do they reflect the care we give and the services we provide? The truth is kindness and compassion are just as important as the medical care we provide, the equipment we use, the policies we are guided by and the safety of our patients.
When I gave birth to my first daughter medically the care we received was life saving for us both. However the poor aftercare, devoid of kindness and compassion, confounded my traumatic birth and left me coping with PTSD. The effects for me and my family have been long lasting and life changing.
While of course it matters the medical care we give, without it being enveloped with kindness and compassion we can unknowingly cause harm and heartache to those we are seeking to care for. Simple acts of kindness and showing compassion in our dealing with patients and as staff, each other, can go along way in making very difficult and sometimes traumatic situations such as the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a terminal illness or caring for a desperately ill child just that little bit easier to bear.
So as people who work in a healthcare setting how can we keep kindness and compassion at the centre of care? What can we do as individuals and teams to keep kindness and compassion firmly in focus?
Patients put their trust in us to help them when they are at their most vulnerable, sometimes even placing their very lives in our hands. They rely on us to not only to give good accurate evidence based information, medical care that will help them enjoy a better, healthier, life, but also that we protect them from harm not only physically, but emotionally. But with the pressures of the modern healthcare system we can lose sight of the simple things, the language we use and the things that make a hospital visit or stay easier. We forget sometimes the kind words and the ‘feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone who is stricken by misfortune’. Hospital in particular can be a scary place. Away from home, without loved ones around, often in pain or worried about what will happen all patients can do is look to those there to care for them for reassurance and comfort.
Do patients come first?
Two things are important to help us keep kindness and compassion in all we do. These are, the culture of our workplace and also our own personal, inner, values. Both culture and inner values are linked, they feed each other. How?
Does the culture we work in allow for kindness and compassion, does it help them nurture and grow? Are we working as a team, supporting each other, trusting each other? Are individual talents and gifts allowed to flourish? Does our culture show that patients come first, that patients are viewed not as a label or a diagnosis but a mother, a father, a daughter or a son. Do we reflect in our language that we care, that we have time for, but also want to listen to patients and that their thoughts, needs and opinions matter?
What about patient needs? Does the culture allow for patients to feedback their needs and thoughts, are these valued and appreciated or just token listened to? Is the culture flexible to meet the needs of more complex needs, if the patient is blind or disabled, does the patient need family to communicate due to language needs or maybe learning difficulties. Or maybe mental health issues mean a patient needs extra support and understanding.
Or, is the culture based on policy, data, paperwork and procedures. Is the culture target driven and what’s best for staff not patients? Does the culture dictate the care given, unyielding to the needs of those it serves? Are patients made to feel like they are a burden, bothering staff or too afraid to ask for help? This can be hard with so many demands and lack of resources, it can feel overwhelming maybe impossible to give care that is not only medically good but shows genuine kindness and compassion too. So what can help?
Firstly staff need support. Good communication, praise and kindness to each other are vital. Good management is also important. Allowing staff to grow, treating them with respect and making them feel appreciated will help keep a culture healthy. Its important too that staff are listened to. Winning minds and hearts of staff starts with an approachable management. Feeling that issues can be raised, ideas can be shared and they have an active role to play in improving services builds up staff and makes hearts swell with pride. Often if managers listen to their staff they will know what the service needs, what patients need and how care can be given in a productive but kind and compassionate way.
The second important link for showing kindness and compassion is our own inner values. We can ask ourselves?
- Do we see labels or people?
- Do we take responsibility for our own actions or do we blame the culture?
- Are we showing kindness with each other and patients?
- Do our actions show that compassion is our focus?
- How do we view patients, are they a privilege or a burden?
- Does the way we manage or treat work colleagues set an example in kindness.
- Are we critical and indifferent to the needs of others?
These can be hard questions to face. But why must we look at our inner self and values? Because if all of us maintain our inner values, if we remember we are accountable for our actions, if we stay true to ourself and not let others dull our shine. If we keep patients as our focus and do everything to make care given right, if we speak up when we see something is wrong and do all we can to be an example of kindness and compassion then we affect the culture. Often thinking about how we would feel in that persons shoes, or thinking about what we would want for our family member needing care can help us keep our inner values on track. Our inner values and a healthy culture go together, with everyone displaying values that are patient focused there is no poor culture.
If we are struggling with our inner values then reflect on our motivation. Why we are in our job, how did we feel when we first started. No doubt we were full of enthusiasm and excitement. Maybe we wanted to help people, relieve suffering, make a difference or find our inner joy and happiness. Whatever it was that drove us on, that ignited our passion, make sure it is still burning strong. If the flames have some what died, then find ways to rekindle the embers till the passion for caring for others once again burns bright.
Inner values and a healthy culture so together.
Why does it matter? Because what we do and the way we do it can profoundly affect someones life. We may not be able to bring back someones loved one that has died, or prevent someones child being sick or cure someone of an incurable disease, but we can make sure we give them kindness and compassion. It may only be small things, the way we say “Hello” on a reception desk, holding an older persons hand while they under go a test, sitting talking about the weather with a mother sat by her babies incubator, fetching a cup of tea for a son waiting for his father to come out or surgery or sometimes just saying ‘sorry’ that your appointment is late. But these small acts can mean so much to a person, to a family that is suffering, that are worried, that are looking to us to help. We may never know the effect of out kindness and how we have helped others but we will in our hearts know that we are doing our best.
Thankfully there are many working hard to show real kindness and compassion everyday, both in small ways and in making large scale changes. By working closely with patients and listening and sharing ideas they are improving services to reflect not only good evidence based care, but kindness to others and compassion especially to those in society that are most vulnerable. Medically we give our best, some saving lives everyday, however we cannot forget to show kindness and compassion. When we do it improves the culture, improves care, it helps staff feel appreciated and valued and patients feel cared for and safe. It means feedback for our services that builds a good reputation and gives staff praise for all their hard work but more than that it will bring us inner joy and happiness knowing we made a difference and we helped those who depended on us in times of distress to have a journey a little more bearable. Yes, kindness and compassion matters to us all.