Self, interpersonal and organisational acts of compassion amongst nurses during times of acute stress: A qualitative analysis

Ruth Abrams*, Anna Conolly, Emma Rehman, Ruth Harris, Bridie Kent, Daniel Kelly, Jill Maben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: There is a global shortage of nurses and new strategies are required to recruit, support and retain this staff group. Organisational culture can have a significant impact on staff wellbeing and commitment. Recent years have seen attempts to foster a compassionate culture across healthcare systems. However, little is known about how nurses initiate self-care and how they feel cared for by their organisation, particularly in times of acute stress and need.
Aims: This paper aims to address the research question, ‘In what ways do nurses experience compassion (or not) during times of acute stress?’, identifying where and how compassionate acts were enacted by individuals, within teams or organisations.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 50 UK National Health Service (NHS) nurses in a longitudinal qualitative study (between March 2020 and September 2022).
Results: Three themes were derived from our narrative analysis including: (1) Learning and practising self-compassion; (2) The presence and absence of interpersonal compassion; and (3) Organisational (non) compassionate acts. Findings indicate that self-compassion requires permission and discipline, often being unfamiliar terrain for nurses. Interpersonal compassion can buoy nurses during challenging times but can often be absent across teams. Nurses’ experiences of organisational acts of compassion were limited, and they often felt de-valued, unsupported and replaceable.
Conclusions: Compassionate acts are enacted across three levels (self, team and organisation). To retain staff, particularly in acutely stressful or challenging situations, organisations, and those responsible for nursing management and policy need to foster a systems-based approach to compassionate culture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100437
JournalSSM - Qualitative Research in Health
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2024


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