Irony alert! The best way to decrease empathy in nurses, apparently, is to actually practice nursing. A new study of nursing students found that
as students gained more clinical exposure, they demonstrated a much greater decline in empathy scores over the year than did those with limited clinical experience during that year. This finding extended to students with previous work experiences in the clinical setting, who also evidenced declines in empathy of practical importance. . .
The study indicates the usual suspects in this decline of empathy: lack of time to empathetically interact with patients, lack of support, lack of role modelling, focus on the technical aspects of nursing and so on. It concludes: “[U]ntil the art of nursing is recognized as a necessary criterion for successful completion of coursework and as important as passing an exam, students will likely continue to demonstrate behaviors that make them good technicians but not necessarily very good nurses.”
But I’m not very surprised. I was speaking to a friend the other day who is a clinical instructor for a certain university-based nursing program in Toronto. She told me of the open and enormous contempt the academic instructors at this university have for the clinical instructors (the majority of whom are bedside nurses as well) and by extension, for bedside nursing in general. (This isn’t the first time I have heard this, and I have experienced this myself when I was a clinical instructor.) It isn’t a large leap to suggest what we esteem in bedside nursing, i.e. empathy and compassion, are devalued in the same way, and that negative attitudes are passed on to students.
The rot, it seems, begins early. I would be interested to know the experience of other clinical instructors, or new graduates. Or am I just talking through my hat?