Nursing & Care


Developing and Sustaining Empathy among Nurses in Kenya

Pius Gitonga Gervasioh, Anna Kagure Karani and Samuel Kimani Thuo

Background: Empathy is a cognitive-affective response to human need for affection. Empathy is also a universal value that is acceptable across human diversity. Ability, inability or inconsistency in showing empathy is associated with a variety of factors. Nurses have occasionally been blamed of not consistently showing empathy to patients. Aim: The study aimed at analysing the factors that influence development and sustainability of empathy among nurses in Kenya.

Methodology: A mixed method study approach was applied in this study. The area of study included Kenyatta National Hospital, Embu Level Five Hospital, Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital, and Tenwek mission hospital in Kenya. The target population was nurses. Quantitative study involved a stratified random sample of 386 nurses. A researcher developed self-administered questionnaire was used for data collection. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics.

Results: The study showed a positive relationship between developing and sustaining empathy. Self-concept and self-assessment empathy correlations were significant (p=0.01; ∞ =0.05). Gender was significantly correlated to empathy (p=0.000). Empathy quotient in the study sample correlated significantly to social awareness (r = 0.419, p=0.00). Average empathetic self-rating obtained through self-assessment was 8.3 (SD = 1.281). Benefits of empathy were identified; better patient outcomes and improved working environment for nurses. Factors favouring development of empathy included consistent compassion in the training environment professional support to mentees and novice nurses’ availability of compassionate mentors, willingness to empathise, cultivating empathy in social circles, personal socialisation styles and taking opportunities to show empathy. Professional support, quality of mentor-mentee interactions; the self-determination and willingness to show empathy were considered essential in cultivating empathy among peers and groups in nursing practice. Sustaining empathy in nursing practice included positive emotionality, cultivating compassion in the hospitals, continued professional development, rewarding nurses who demonstrate empathy.

Conclusion: Empathy is a life skill that enables nurses to understand the perspectives of a patient and communicate that understanding in a style and fashion that patient can recognise with. Empathy is the quality and value that is increasingly responsible for cultivating altruistic qualities that enable nurses to develop and sustain professional attributes of caring, establish effective therapeutic and professional relationships.