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Examining Registered Nurses’ level of compassion: What is the influence of practice environments?

Study Lead
Study Lead
Assistant Professor
Stephanie Saunders
Ms. Denise Neumann-Fuhr, Faculty of Health Science/School of Nursing
Dr. Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, Faculty of Health Science/School of Nursing
Ms. Jennifer Waite, Faculty of Health Sciences/School of Nursing

What?  Registered Nurses are expected to provide compassionate care for their patients. Compassion is defined as “a virtuous and intentional response to know a person, to discern their needs and ameliorate their suffering through relational understanding and action”1. A Registered Nurse’s ability to display compassion may be influenced by their respective working environment and related organizational culture. A literature review found that institutional environments either facilitate or reduce the expression of compassion2. Workplaces that pursue supportive environments, teamwork and collaboration among healthcare providers, and emotional engagement contribute to making compassionate care tangible3,4. However, some workplace cultures and practice environments may not be optimally equipped or prepared to support nurses in delivering compassionate care.


Why? In a study exploring the prevalence of nurses’ compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue and compassion burnout across different settings and countries, Zhang et al. found that the prevalence of nurses’ compassion satisfaction was only 48% and their levels of compassion fatigue and burnout were higher5. Various factors may contribute to lower levels of compassion satisfaction among nurses; exploring and addressing these factors is important, as they can affect patient care and the quality of life of nurses. In the present study, we aim to understand the level of compassion and compassion competence of practicing Registered Nurses across Ontario. We will use this data as a baseline for future work. Additionally, due to the large influence of practice environments on nurses’ work, it is important to gain a greater understanding of the influence of nursing practice environments and their association with compassionate care.


How? A cross sectional electronic survey will be used to gather data about Registered Nurses’ level of compassion, compassion competence, and the influence of practice environments/organizations on compassion. All practicing Registered Nurses across Ontario are eligible to participate in the survey (click HERE to participate!). An additional environmental scan of the literature will be done to collate existing resources to raise awareness about compassion.


Impact of findings. Compassion is a key component in quality care that should be constantly evaluated and improved. Survey findings will provide details about the levels of compassion competence and satisfaction among practicing Registered Nurses in Ontario and serve as a benchmark for future research. Additionally, findings about nursing practice environments could be useful to identify ways to support nurses in their provision of compassionate care. In this way, results could inform future education and awareness about compassion.





1. Sinclair S, Hack TF, Raffin-Bouchal S, Mcclement S, Stajduhar K, Singh P, et al. What are healthcare providers’ understandings and experiences of compassion? The healthcare compassion model: a grounded theory study of healthcare providers in Canada. BMJ Open. 2018;8(3):e019701.

2. McCaffrey G, McConnell S. Compassion: a critical review of peer-reviewed nursing literature. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2015;24(19-20):3006-15.

3. Dewar B, Mackay R. Appreciating and developing compassionate care in an acute hospital setting caring for older people. International Journal of Older People Nursing. 2010;5(4):299-308.

4. Dewar B, Nolan M. Caring about caring: Developing a model to implement compassionate relationship centred care in an older people care setting. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2013;50(9):1247-58.

 5. Zhang Y-Y, Han W-L, Qin W, Yin H-X, Zhang C-F, Kong C, et al. Extent of compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue and burnout in nursing: A meta-analysis. Journal of Nursing Management. 2018;26(7):810-9.