Want to Improve Patient Experience? Take Care of Nurses

Nurses employed by organizations that use compassion practices reported feeling more alertness, vigor and energy.

Nurses employed by organizations that use compassion practices reported feeling more alertness, vigor and energy.

Nursing is among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations in the U.S., yet the number of nurses exiting the profession currently outpaces the number of those entering. And the turnover rate is growing higher: The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation recently reported that nearly 20 percent of nurses leave the profession during their first year and one in three is gone within two years.

New research by Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona; Laura McClelland, assistant professor of health administration in the School of Allied Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University; and VCU doctoral student Matthew J. DePuccio found that "compassion practices" impact the work and well-being of nurses.

These relatively conventional organizational practices, which reward and recognize caregiving work, include job-related resources to cope with stress and provide pastoral care.

"We know there is a burnout epidemic among nurses," Gabriel said. "The stress of caring for patients, the demands from patient families and from physicians — these are likely contributing to a growing nursing shortage in the United States, leaving us with fewer trained caregivers at a time when, increasingly, we'll need more."

The researchers studied 177 nurses in 30 ambulatory clinics in a Southeastern hospital system in an attempt to evaluate how compassion practices influenced nurses' reports of well-being. They found that in clinics where compassion practices were the norm, nurses self-reported less emotional exhaustion (feelings of fatigue and stress and of being overextended) and more psychological vitality (feelings of alertness, vigor and energy).

The researchers also found that in clinics with higher levels of compassion practices, patients reported better interactions with nurses and gave higher evaluations of their patient care experience.

The results show that compassion practices improve nurses' well-being and are good for patients, too.

"The advantages of instituting and encouraging compassion practices can be significant," Gabriel said. "They are low-cost, budget-conscious tactics. They help produce happier nurses, and they result in patients having a better care experience in the clinics.

"Given the positive association with patient experience ratings, our study demonstrates the business case for compassion practices. Health care administrators should consider the use of these practices as a tool to improve nurse well-being and to achieve higher patient ratings."

The research is forthcoming under the title "Compassion Practices, Nurse Well-Being and Ambulatory Patient Experience Ratings" in Medical Care.

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