The quality of compassion is never trained

Posted on July 13th, by geoff in CT blog. 2 comments

By Caring Times editor Geoff Hodgson

In the first paragraph of a comment piece last week, Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton opined that “competent nurses are more important to the healthcare sector than compassionate ones” and it got my dander up.

Yes, she covers herself to some degree by beginning the second paragraph with “Ideally, they should be both” but it’s clear that Ms Middleton considers competency to be the prime imperative. I don’t agree. When I read of this preference for competency over compassion the first thing that came into my mind was an image of Sister Mildred Rached, the power-dressing charge nurse in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and that led me quickly to contemplate the oh-so-competent doctors and nurses in the experimental blocks at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. Extreme I admit, but it does demonstrate the potential consequences of competency unseasoned with compassion.

There is a move towards “values-based recruitment”in social care (a leader in this as in so many other aspects of care delivery). This is a recognition that if you start with people who have the essential quality of compassion, you can teach them the skills that will make them competent in due course. I think that to a considerable extent, this is where nursing has gone wrong – get the right A-Levels and you can go to uni. and train to be a nurse. That may equip you to spot the more obvious glitches on an ECG but it does little to help you deliver good patient care.

The really important attributes for all healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, physios et al – compassion, respect for individual dignity and an appreciation of the sanctity of life appear to be innate qualities. While they can be nourished in childhood I’m not sure they can ‘trained into’ a person at a college of further education.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

2 responses to “The quality of compassion is never trained”

  1. Tony Stein says:

    This to me is at the heart of the problem with nursing being “professionalised” because the badge ‘professional’ has acquired a disproportionate and misplaced level of respect in society. Nursing should be viewed as a vocation first ( a far more worthy label) and a profession second. This in no way whatsoever diminishes the skills required but it does recognise that, no matter how well qualified, you need to want to ‘care’ to be any good as a nurse. It also explains why the drop out rate is so high for graduate nurses. Nursing isn’t an academic exercise as many student nurses discover when they actually have to start delivering hands-on care.

  2. Roger Wharton says:

    The National Skills Academy (now part of Skills for Care) promote value based recruitment. It is showing good and positive results and reducing turnover of staff who formerly were recruited on the basis of qualifications and experience. It works! I’m surprised that NT takes a different view.

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