How Healthcare Employers Can Cultivate Compassion
Compassion is a ubiquitous human trait, and it goes by a lot of names. One such iteration has the power to decide the fate of healthcare professionals everywhere: bedside manner. Patients want the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals they interact with to be engaged, understanding and good at listening. Anything short of that can have negative repercussions for the patient.
“Patients who believe their doctor feels compassion and really listens to them are much more likely to be compliant with taking medication, returning to the clinic, getting the required tests done — and their overall health scores are better,” says Dr. William Mobley, Interim Director of the Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion at the University of California at San Diego. “Empathy helps patients at a very practical level. It matters.”
So how can HR get involved?
Here are three ways HR can be instrumental in creating a compassionate workforce for your healthcare organization.
View Compassion as a Key Behavioral Competency
In order to build a compassionate team, it’s necessary to know what you’re looking for. There are certain behaviors associated with empathy and compassion. These subjective measures include listening, the ability to communicate, the ability to empathize and an increased motivation to demonstrate compassion.
Although there are no objective measures, these are the outcomes that tend to present most frequently, Mobley says. Identifying the behavioral components of compassion will lead to better outcomes in recruiting and hiring.
Use Pre-Hire Steps to Assess Compassion
Hiring practices can offer a glimpse into a person’s psyche. Interviews are a great chance to learn something about a candidate’s ability to listen with empathy. “Throughout the interview, keeping track of eye contact, tone of voice, facial expression and body language can all offer clues about compassion,” says Cheryl Dellasega, a Professor at Penn State’s College of Medicine. “Does the person lean toward you? Are they attentive and thoughtful about your questions? Does their work history show evidence of reliability and stability? You can learn a lot about a person from observing them.”
You can also use situational judgment or role playing to determine how a candidate may react to certain patient scenarios. “In some cases, the applicant is asked to communicate and ‘connect’ with a mock patient acting out an illness scenario,” Dellasega says. “If you don’t have the resources for that, you can give applicants a written scenario designed to evoke compassion and reactions that could be a good screener.”
These may include questions such as these:
- How would you give "bad news"?
- What might you do when the family of a dying patient can't be present?
- Describe how you've handled a "difficult patient."
Imbue Compassion in Your Existing Staff
Compassion should be an inherent trait, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be practiced. In fact, it should be an integral part of any medical facility’s ongoing training. “The default position should be to train everyone in compassion,” Mobley says. “Relatively short, simple training methods will help your staff become not just better employees, but also happier people.”
Meditation and role playing can be used to “exercise” compassion and empathy. When training your staff for compassion, be sure to track results using the Jefferson Scale of Empathy or situational judgment scenarios, including pre- and post-test measurements, Mobley says.
Compassion and empathy are critical skills in the healthcare industry. “Just as tiny babies ‘fail to thrive’ when they are not touched or cuddled, acutely ill patients need to feel cared for and comforted by their providers,” Dellasega says. By cultivating compassion in your workforce, your organization will be better equipped to provide that essential care for patients.