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Empathy as an Ethical Imperative

Overall View of Empathy

Several essential interpersonal skills are fundamental to any nurse in practice. However, empathy is considered to be among the principal skills that a practising nurse should embrace. This paper today will focus on the topic of empathy and how it is incepted and conceptualizes in our daily lives as nurses. Occasionally, nurses are presented with situations that demand empathy, for instance, telling an elderly cancer patient that they do not have long to live. The practitioner has to be skilled in understanding what the patient is going through and respond appropriately. However, with the problem of the shortage of nurses in hospitals, there is a push for quicker consultations, therefore, the need for efficiency suppresses clinical empathy.

There are two components of empathy, namely emotional and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy constitutes the ability to share and experience the intrinsic feelings of others, while cognitive empathy entails the capability to identify the perspective of others and depict their thoughts. Empathy improves not only the patient outcome but also clinical competence.

Importance of Empathy

This skill is essential to nurses as it facilitates their connection with patients, and in some instances, it proves to be more effective in patient care as compared to technical ability. As a matter of fact, one of the most persuasive arguments for empathy in the healthcare context is the relatively strong correlation between establishing a good patient-provider relationship and a positive health outcome. Studies have illustrated that the beneficial effects of a good therapeutic relationship on patient outcome is of equal magnitude to numerous well-established medical treatments. Empathy also strongly correlates with ethical care, and this is emphasized in Adams (2018), where ethical care is described as a direct reflection of professional empathy as it helps nurses make decisions in instances that require value-based judgment or moral reasoning.

How to Show Empathy

Empathy can be conceptualized as a natural trait, intrinsic trait and as a learned phenomenon. Therefore, some individuals are by nature more empathetic than others, thus the ability to empathize differs among people. However, acquired empathy is taught as a skill and developed more through practice and experience. There are several ways through which it can be integrated into our daily practice. Empathy is a skill that has to be cultivated and practiced for it to become part of our daily lives. Through this, we can improve the lives of others.

Negative Effects of Empathy

Many individuals who pursue nursing decide to do so because they possess a desire to help others. They usually start as empathetic and compassionate, and in some cases, they maintain this level of compassion and empathy throughout their career. However, in some instances, stressors related to the job result in a decrease in empathy, compassion fatigue, and burnout. After reaching this point, they fail to treat patients with empathy as they initially did.

Compassion fatigue is the decrease in the ability of nurses to feel empathy and compassion towards their patients. It can occur to any individual working in the medical field and provides direct patient care. Nevertheless, it is more prevalent in nurses because they often have the most direct patient care contact as compared to other healthcare professionals. Moreover, it differs among nurses in different specialities, for example, emergency room nurses tend to have a higher rate of compassion fatigue as compared to those in the labor and delivery department. Compassion fatigue takes a toll on the personal well-being of nurses, hence they become physically and emotionally drained. Ironically, they become less able to empathize.

The stressors that can lead to compassion fatigue in nursing practice include dealing with large workloads. Occasionally, nurses deal with more than that which they can handle, therefore, they end up rushing through tasks to keep up. Empathy and human interaction are usually dwarfed to getting through the workload.

Preventing and Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

Since compassion fatigue and decrease in empathy can have significant adverse effects on both the nurse and the patient. It is essential to acknowledge some of the ways through which they can be prevented and dealt with. Nurses can guard against compassion fatigue through the establishment of emotional boundaries. Empathetic nurses need to be skilled in how to separate themselves from their patient’s pain, and at the same time, still maintaining a caring therapeutic relationship. Second is the art of self-care. It is essential for nurses to embrace healthy life choices such as being well-fed and well-rested, as they result in a better mood and perspective. Third, making time for hobbies and friends can help get work off the mind, therefore, providing a healthy separation.


Adams, S. B. (2018). Empathy as an ethical imperative. Creative Nursing, 24(3), 166-172.

Marcysiak, M., Dabrowska, O., & Marcysiak, B. (2014). Understanding the concept of empathy in relation to nursing. Progress in Health Sciences, 4(2), 75-81.

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"Empathy as an Ethical Imperative." ApeGrade, 17 Oct. 2022, apegrade.com/empathy-as-an-ethical-imperative/.

1. ApeGrade. "Empathy as an Ethical Imperative." October 17, 2022. https://apegrade.com/empathy-as-an-ethical-imperative/.


ApeGrade. "Empathy as an Ethical Imperative." October 17, 2022. https://apegrade.com/empathy-as-an-ethical-imperative/.


ApeGrade. 2022. "Empathy as an Ethical Imperative." October 17, 2022. https://apegrade.com/empathy-as-an-ethical-imperative/.


ApeGrade. (2022) 'Empathy as an Ethical Imperative'. 17 October.

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