Kindness plays an underappreciated role in healthcare. Nurses who are able to show compassion can better connect with and provide for patients. There’s just one problem: Kindness can be in short supply in the medical field, where stress and burnout are very real problems for nurses and other healthcare providers. As a registered nurse (RN), you must be able to show your patients kindness even when you’re nearing the end of a 12-hour shift, your feet are killing you, and you’re on your fifth cup of coffee.

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online RN to BSN program designed to empower nurses with the skills needed to thrive in leadership roles. In addition to patient-centered care, interprofessional collaboration, and transcultural nursing, our program covers the important role kindness plays in healthcare. Although kindness can’t suture a wound or cure a disease, it can be a powerful tool in medicine if administered properly.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Kindness in Nursing?

Kindness, compassion, sympathy, and empathy are often used interchangeably; however, research shows that a broad concept of empathy is more appropriate for clinical practice. According to an article on empathy, sympathy, and compassion in healthcare, empathy is a dynamic process that involves:

  • A two-way relationship between a patient and healthcare provider.
  • A genuine interest in patients’ concerns and feelings.
  • Considering what it would be like in a patient’s situation.
  • Respecting patients’ dignity.
  • Using what’s been learned about a patient to assist them.

Empathy in healthcare means more than just being friendly. It requires conscious effort to step back and respect a patient’s feelings, needs, and predicament. This process requires a skill set that can be developed with time, practice, and instruction. By accepting your emotions, you can better care for your patients and avoid and mitigate stress that leads to burnout. We’ll continue to use “kindness” throughout this article, but what we’re referring to is a multi-step process requiring empathy.

The Importance of Showing Kindness to Patients

Kindness is more than just window dressing on medical care. It’s an integral part of the patient experience. Research has shown that patients who receive compassionate, patient-centered care are more satisfied and willing to comply with their medical treatment, which leads to positive patient outcomes. Kindness, as perceived by patients, may even reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. When healthcare providers take the time to consider a patient’s needs, they are better able to provide for those needs. If you’ve ever struggled to convince a patient to take their regularly scheduled medicine, you may already know the important role kindness plays in improving patient outcomes.

Conversely, unkind behavior can have just as much of an impact on patient experiences and outcomes. 64% of Americans report experiencing unkind behavior in healthcare settings. In addition to staff rudeness and poor listening skills, survey takers reported a failure on behalf of their healthcare provider to develop a two-way relationship. Poor experiences like these encourage patients to switch to other healthcare providers or forgo seeking healthcare altogether. Kindness is so valued by patients, in fact, that the majority of Americans surveyed ranked kindness as one of the most important factors in choosing a healthcare provider, above the cost of care, wait times, and travel distance.

Entering a patient’s room with a warm smile and a willingness to listen may seem trivial when compared to objective medical outcomes, but how patients perceive kindness can strongly color their experience and impact the quality of care they receive. Unfortunately, kindness may be the last thing on your mind during a clinical encounter, especially when a patient is being less than cooperative. How can you build a two-way relationship with patients who aren’t willing to be kind to nurses?

Building a Rapport With Patients

It’s important to understand that when patients are acting out, they are only reacting to situations they feel they have little or no control over. Nancy Whitt, a nurse of 45 years, sums it up perfectly: “It’s easy to blame the nurse who’s right there. Most of the time, [patients] are just reacting to the circumstances they’ve found themself in with anger, fear, or a bit of both. You just need to let it all wash over you and carry on with your job.”

“Let it wash over you” may be easier said than done, but it’s the key to fighting burnout and showing kindness. By being kind even when your impulse is to do otherwise, you will eventually form a habit. Kindness can become second nature with time, instruction, and practice. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness-based meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation, can help in this regard. One study shows that by taking just 10 minutes to meditate and wish patients health, happiness, and well-being, healthcare providers can prevent burnout and improve the quality of care.

As a nurse, you may not have 10 minutes to spare when administering care. However, it’s important to at least see your patients as living, thinking individuals who experience joy, sorrow, and everything in between as vividly as you do. What patients feel when they have a broken leg or an infected wound is exactly what you would feel if the tables were turned. That’s kindness: being able to see things from another perspective and using that insight to build a rapport with patients.

Adding Kindness to Your Nursing Repertoire

You can develop the skill set needed to employ kindness in your profession, and it begins by making a conscious choice to consider the needs of others. At UT Permian Basin, our online RN to BSN program can guide you as you become a more compassionate, capable leader.

Our program empowers students with the leadership skills needed to consider patients’ medical and emotional needs when making decisions. Our course Population Public Health Clinical empowers students to perform assessments of formal and informal community systems and health care delivery systems with an emphasis on cultural diversity and the needs of individuals, families, communities, and populations, while courses like Social Determinants of Health teach students how to evaluate the way sociocultural factors impact health disparities, outcomes, and patient satisfaction, strengthening patient-nurse rapport and empathy. Moreover, our program is flexible and 100% online, meaning that you can earn your degree while continuing to work and care for your patients.

If you’re interested in becoming a kinder, more compassionate nurse, enroll in UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program. In less than eight months after enrolling, you can graduate having gained an entirely new perspective on nursing.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program.