UBC and UCalgary study explores compassion training in health care

Compassion can be taught, but the comprehensiveness of such teaching is currently limited.

That’s one of the key findings of Dr. Shane Sinclair, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Nursing and director of the Compassion Research Lab at the University of Calgary, and co-investigator Dr. Amanda Roze des Ordons, Clinical Associate Professor with the Southern Medical Program based at UBC Okanagan.

“Compassion is such an important part of health care, and how best to integrate this teaching into health-professions education has been approached in many different ways,” says Roze des Ordons. “By mapping previous approaches to the compassion model framework, we were able to identify several key gaps.”

The research team used an empirical model of compassion to create a benchmark for what encompasses compassion and assess the comprehensiveness of the teaching content of the training programs reviewed. They found considerable limitations related to how existing programs assessed and reported the impact of training, as most of the programs relied on learner assessments and their perceived improvements in providing compassion to patients.

“We need to mature in our training programs to move beyond simply nurturing feelings of compassion to actually providing health-care practitioners with the tangible, evidence-based clinical skills and behaviours to provide compassion to patients in a more meaningful, robust and sustainable way,” says Sinclair.

The study results suggest that the effectiveness of compassion training needs to primarily be evaluated through patient assessment or patient-reported measures, as they are the ultimate target of compassion training in health care.

“We hope this will help provide evidence-based guidance to educators and practitioners who are seeking ways of advancing how compassion is integrated into the curriculum and patient care,” adds Roze des Ordons.

While Sinclair is encouraged by the emergence of compassion training in universities, he stresses the importance of integrating the training within the health-care system and supporting ongoing education to ensure a lasting impact on health care learners.

The review was recently published in Academic Medicine. An original version of this story is posted on the University of Calgary website.