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Journal of Nursing

Compassion in Nursing; the “Gift that Keeps on Giving"

Mary Ellen Buechel Holbrook, RN, BA, BSN, CPAN [email protected]

Chochinov (2007) describes compassion as a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it (Bramley& Matiti, 2013). As a Recovery Room nurse, this rings true. However, showing compassion encompasses much more than desiring to relieve our surgical patients’ pain. In a large Recovery Room patients may feel as if they represent just a number in a slot. This is where the nurses’ art of compassion comes into play. In the past fifteen years as a Recovery Room nurse, I have learned that each patient wakes up from anesthesia differently. Often, mitigating circumstances preoperatively have a bearing on the patients’ demeanor and therefore affect their post-operative behavior. Listening to many patients in the postoperative setting, they have told me that their anxiety about having surgery not only centered around the fear of not having their pain relieved after surgery, but how their surgery would affect the lives of their family members. This is where the real art of nurses’ compassion and the art of listening can make a big difference.

I feel that while it is important for the nurse to assess his or her patient’s neurological status upon admission to the Recovery Room, it is just as important to ask if they are in pain and if they are cold. Once the nurse has established this knowledge it is imperative to let the patient know that relieving their pain and getting them warm is just as important to the nurse as it is to the patient. According to Wood (2016), “compassion allows a patient to feel cared for, respected and trusting that the nurse has his or hers best interest in mind”. The ability of nurses’ compassion goes beyond relieving the patients’ pain and making them warm. I have found that making eye contact with my patients and sometimes holding their hand, and even rubbing their forehead is what makes such a difference in their Recovery Room experience. After all, patients are people, and as people they want to be recognized for who they are, not just a patient in the Recovery Room. I have found that listening to patients talk about their family, grandchildren, and even their careers, makes their time in recovery a more personal and rewarding experience. I believe that while nurses have many physical tasks to perform for their patients in Recovery, it is the personal touch that determines whether their patient leaves Recovery Room feeling like they were just a patient in a slot, or a patient who established a personal relationship with their nurse. Lynn (2017) states that patients who are shown compassion by the nurses who care for them are more likely to be comfortable in times of illness, pain, and mental stress.” Relieving our patient’s pain is a must and is often accomplished with pre-operative nerve blocks or post-operative pain medication. However it is that giving of ourselves to the patient in a caring sense that makes the difference between simply recovering from surgery and leaving the hospital, and leaving with a sense that their experience was special because the nurses they encountered really, truly cared.

One of our nurses who primarily works in the pre-op area often makes time to come through the Recovery Room to seek out her former patients. As she greets her patients by their name, both the patient and any family members at the bedside break into a smile and often reach out to give her a hug. This simple act of coming to see her patients surely makes them feel special because they realize that this nurse not only remembered them, but also cared about how they were doing post-operatively.

Nurses’ compassion is truly the gift that keeps on giving. As Lynn (2017) states “Nurses who feel a sense of concern for their patient’s well-being typically enjoy their jobs more than those who focus less on the emotional side of the profession.” There are days that long after I have punched out, I think about a patient I cared for in Recovery Room who presented more of a challenge, but with extra “tender loving care” I turned their frowns into smiles. Sometimes, caring for a patient who requires every ounce of compassion I have, but who leaves Recovery Room smiling and hugging me, leaves me feeling “on top of the world!” Thirty-nine years ago I became a nurse because while at Florida State, I thought to myself “I think I can do more good as a nurse, than a Physical Education teacher”. I was right.


Bramley, L. & Matiti, M. (2013, November), How does it really feel to be
in my shoes? Patients’ experiences of compassion within nursing
care and their perceptions of developing compassionate nurses.
Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Chochinov, HM (2007), Dignity and the essence of medicine: the A, B, C and D of dignity
conserving care. British Medical Journal 335,184-187
Lynn, J. (2017, July), What are the benefits of compassion in nursing?
Retrieved from:
Wood, D. (2016), Nurses’ compassionate care affects patient outcomes.
Retrieved from:

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