What Would the World Look Like If We Prioritized Compassion?

Categories: Care, Education, and Featured.

November 1st, 2021, marks the very first World Compassionate Communities Day, which aims to highlight the work of those around the world who are making a difference at the community level with actions related to dying, death, caregiving and grief. 

This World Compassionate Communities Day, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association is highlighting the work of Dr. Shane Sinclair, a nationally funded, internationally recognized, and award-winning researcher of the topic of compassion. He is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Nursing and is the Director of the Compassion Research Lab the University of Calgary. 

His research is directly informed by the gaps he has witnessed at the clinical level when it comes to providing compassion in the lives of patients and families facing a serious illness. Over the years, Sinclair and the Compassion Research Lab have worked tirelessly to produce a way to measure compassion within health care settings in Canada and beyond.  

How do we encourage the implementation of compassion within health care? 

Compassion is integral to the health care sector and is even written into our health care policies. However, there is no system-wide program in place to measure levels of compassion. This has unfortunately resulted in health care providers being primarily blamed when compassion is lacking. Dr. Sinclair and his team have challenged these circumstances by viewing lack of compassion in health care as more of a systems issue. 

“We are not so much faced with a lack of compassionate people in the health care sector. If you were to say to a nurse, ‘We would like to free you up from your other tasks to give you more time to provide compassion to your patients’ They would not refuse. The problem lies within the lack of space and time for health care providers to prioritize compassion day-to-day,” states Dr. Sinclair. 

Prioritizing compassion within health care comes with its own set of challenges. Although it is intended to be a supportive measure, it would evidently expose some gaps. With this in mind, Dr. Sinclair and the Compassion Research Lab have focused their research on measuring compassion in order to create positive, concrete change within health care settings and systems.  

How do we measure compassion? 

The main goal of implementing a compassionate approach to care within a community is, of course, benefiting members of the community with advanced illnesses or who are at the end of life, and their families by providing compassion. However, everybody experiences compassion in diverse ways. Although a compassionate community works towards creating a compassionate experience for all, not everyone in a given community will share the same expectations when interacting with health care providers. Depending on their cultural background, their values, and individual personality, among other things, patients within the same community are bound to value differing approaches to compassion. Considering this, how do we make sure every individual receives compassion in a way that best suits them? 

Dr. Sinclair and the Compassion Research Lab have developed the Sinclair Compassion Questionnaire, including an Importance Scale Version, which allows researchers to determine what elements of compassion matter most to individuals and groups of patients in addition to measuring their actual experiences of compassion. When providing compassion, the following domains are measured: 

Virtuous response  

This facet of compassion is comprised of the noble qualities and attitudes hospice palliative care providers possess and cultivate which motivate a compassionate response. 

Relational space  

This facet of compassion focuses on the aspects of compassion that patients feel emanating from their healthcare providers like warmth, love, calm and kindness. 

Relational communication 

This facet of compassion is comprised of verbal and nonverbal displays of compassion conveyed through health care provider demeanour, affect, behaviour, and engagement. 

Seeking to understand  

This facet of compassion focuses on patients feeling understood as a person and having their unique needs recognized by their healthcare provider. 

Attending to needs  

This facet of compassion focuses on action, proactive behaviours that healthcare providers do in order to engage and address patients multifactorial suffering.   

Clinically, the SCQ-i should ideally be administered as a baseline measure at the time of admission into a healthcare facility in order to identify a benchmark on how that specific individual optimally receives compassion, with the gold-standard SCQ, which measures patients ongoing experiences of compassion being administered routinely thereafter. 

Everyone deserves to receive compassion. It is important to keep in mind that although the SCQ-i was initially developed in a hospice and palliative setting, it is applicable all health care settings, as compassion is contingent on suffering.  

This World Compassionate Communities Day, Dr. Sinclair is leaving us with an important question, “What would the world look like if we prioritized compassion?” 

To learn more about Dr. Sinclair, the Compassion Research Lab, and the SCQ-i, visit https://www.drshanesinclair.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ShaneASinclair and the Compassion Research Lab at @CRLinAction 

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