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Ballarat, Australia

Compassion in Healthcare

Most hospital and healthcare facilities list compassion as one of their core values. While compassion is important to patients and their families, we are very much at the early stages of understanding how to apply compassion in practical terms within hospital settings.

One of the issues related to compassion is that it is frequently misunderstood as relating to love, softness, tenderness and even weakness, Whereas, in reality compassion is a powerful and courageous human motivation. While compassion has been identified as a value in contemplative traditions for centuries – science is now defining compassion as a motivation, and as a motivation compassion guides us to both – 1) Notice, turn towards (rather than away from) and pay attention to signals of distress and suffering in others, along with 2) a desire to alleviate and prevent that distress and suffering which involves learning how to do it skilfully.

Source: Compassionate Mind


These skills require learning how to do compassion well, and within the past 5-7 years training modules have been developed to support the motives of individuals to be compassionate, and to develop positive emotions that can be triggered towards compassionate action. One of the world’s leading experts in compassion training is the social neuroscientist Dr Tania Singer who has found that compassion training works by engaging the ‘ generation of positive affect and the underlying brain network related to care and affiliation. (The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, 2017, pg. 114).

Applying compassion in healthcare settings is important because recent studies are showing that it results in better staff wellbeing and commitment and improved care within workplaces. A recent Harvard medical school study of patient satisfaction revealed that clinical compassion accounted for 65% of the variation in patient satisfaction. And another study of 3000 patients suggested that if their physicians were brusque, patients did not feel fully empowered to understand cope with and manage their illness. (Michael West, 2021 Compassionate Leadership, pg50) And for the clinician’s psychology safety studies find an inverse relationship between compassion and burnout – the more clinicians and carers are compassionate the less likely they are to experience burnout (Michael West, 2021 Compassionate Leadership, pg. 53).

One of the aims of Compassionate Ballart is to share the learnings on applying compassion science in various settings including in business, education, social justice and in healthcare.

Recently, we worked with Grampians Health on a compassion in healthcare training program. This award winning four-week self-paced online course was developed at Monash University and comprises three hours of content per week including a live Q&A event with the course facilitators in the final week. Nine staff members undertook the training and three completed an evaluation that asked these questions:

  • Was this training relevant to your work?
  • What was the most useful information you obtained from the training?
  • Have you been able to apply that compassion approach in your work?
  • Would you recommend this training to your colleagues?
  • Any other comments

We certainly acknowledge that a sample of three does not in any way provide scientific data, but as a program evaluation it does provide at least some indication that this program is worthwhile considering for healthcare providers across Ballarat.

Overall, each of the participants agreed that this course content was relevant to them, and they would all recommend it to their colleagues. In terms of usefulness, they found benefits from the evidenced based readings, discussions, and practical approaches for staff to increase knowledge and skill around the use of compassion as a practical tool.


They were able to take away simple tips for providing compassion, and for applying “fleeting” moments of compassion when busy. In addition, they acquired a better understanding of the difference between compassion and empathy and what means for staff burnout, and how to support the emotional wellbeing of staff in ensuring the workplace has caring team members that can thrive through adversity.

They also indicated they would take their learning and apply it more broadly, for example one participant has already added this content to the emotional intelligence presentation she gives to staff in the emergency department. This course was designed by Dr Debbie Ling, Professor Craig Hassed, and Dr Richard Chambers from Monash University to teach strategies to enhance compassion, avoid empathic distress, improve staff wellbeing and create more caring and compassionate workplaces.

Find more information in Compassion Training for Healthcare Workers.



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