A Nurse’s Dilemma – Empathy V’s Efficiency – Part 1

The “new” (yeah right!!!) health care buzz is all about doing more with less. Being efficient. Nothing startling here, all industries are constantly on the lookout for productivity gains. Nursing is no different. We are regularly hearing from our elected superiors that the health dollar can only stretch so far. Ask most nurses and I’m sure they will tell you that times have definitely changed and the over riding feeling is that less time is spent in holistic patient care than ever before. That’s not to say that world class care is not being given. Far from it. Changes and improvements in technology have seen to that. But has this been at the expense of less compassion and empathy being delivered?

The indisputable fact is that there is only 60 seconds in every minute. No more, no less. God knows I’ve tried to squeeze out 61 seconds but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t. They tell me that  Physics is the problem. Go figure. As there isn’t any more time available, getting the very best out of each of those sixty seconds is a constant balancing act the nurse has to deal with.


Take a stereotypical med-surgical ward (if there is such a thing) for example. There are number of distinct and routine tasks that are repeated each day – medication rounds, shift hand-overs, daily observations, hygiene cares, wound dressings, consultant visits, all which take roughly the same each day.  Then there are the variable tasks such as admission and discharge processes, referrals to arrange, supplies to be ordered / restocked.  Lets no forget the unexpected – patients crashing, staffing shortages, personality clashes, and a little time to be put aside for the Zombie nurse to eat the young.

If it wasn’t for those pesky patients and their needs, nursing would be a pretty cruisy job. Broken down into its mechanical components, nursing is simply a series of monkey see, monkey do tasks which are perfected in due course after sufficient education, repetition and practice. But unfortunately, some patients will insist on more than this. They will want to have their voices heard, worse still they might want to express an opinion on how their care should be conducted.  The most unreasonable of these (and more than likely their interfering family as well) will expect the nurse to take an interest in their health outcome and to be empathetic. Are they kidding themselves? There is after all only 60 seconds in every minute and an increase in productivity demand means that every second must be very well used.

The push for greater efficiency shows no signs of stopping. Nurses need to be conscious that in the quest for greater productivity gains, the real reason behind nursing is not lost in the white noise of administrative chest beating. Nursing without empathy is like a chocolate cake without the frosting – OK, but in the end incomplete and leaving you unsatisfied and wanting more.

I’ve previously written that Nurses don’t get paid to Care – patients get that for free as part of the package of being cared for by a nurse. In part, 2 I’ll outline some ideas on how nurses can best use those 60 seconds in each minute, without compromising on empathy and compassion.

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