A hermeneutic phenomenological study to explore how nurse educators make meaning of compassion and understand its role in their professional practice in a Higher Education Institution in the United Kingdom

Hurley, Gemma (2021) A hermeneutic phenomenological study to explore how nurse educators make meaning of compassion and understand its role in their professional practice in a Higher Education Institution in the United Kingdom. (Ed.D thesis), Kingston University, .


Introduction There is a national and international supposition from public and professional arenas that compassion is pivotal to nursing practice. In the United Kingdom (UK), the traditional images of compassionate nursing that espoused caring acts to relieve others’ suffering is currently juxtaposed with concerns raised over sub-standard nursing care, linked to their seeming decline of compassion. Consequently, there has been a professional and political call for nurse education to cultivate and sustain compassion in nursing. As a nurse educator myself, I am curious to understand how compassion could be developed through education. Interpreting the meaning of compassion is complex and open to multiple interpretations that is causing ambiguity in nurse education. This study aimed to explore how nurse educators make meaning of compassion through their lived experiences in one Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the UK. In doing so, the study seeks to understand how the nurse educators’ meaning of compassion informs their professional practice. Methodology and Methods Hermeneutic phenomenology was the methodological approach used to guide this professional practice research involving nurse educators from one Higher Education Institution in the south-east of England. Phenomenologically informed semistructured interviews were undertaken with twelve nurse educators who were recruited through purposive sampling. They were invited to share their everyday experiences about compassion. Data analysis and interpretation were guided by Heideggerian and Gadamerian philosophical notions to uncover meanings of these everyday experiences. The neo-Aristotelian theoretical perspective of compassion proposed by Nussbaum (2001) offered another vantage point in seeking meaning from the nurse educators’ stories. Interpreting the data from these various horizons of thinking revealed rich meanings from the nurse educators’ everyday encounters. Unconcealment (Findings) The findings termed ‘unconcealment’ indicate that nurse educators share a fundamental concern for Being-with their peers, students, managers and the university that is interpreted as compassion. Whilst they understand emotions are a necessary part of compassion, it is avoided or delayed in their professional and teaching practices as a means of protecting students and their own feelings of vulnerability. In addition, the study highlights that the nurse educators do not feel knowledgeably prepared for addressing students’ personal emotions for facilitating compassion. Furthermore, the relational, structural and normative processes in the university, combined with their background experiences of nursing, create tensions in understanding compassion. These colliding views on compassion include uncertainty over their professional identity, professional boundaries, support for students and ways of engaging with each other that are interpreted as compassion or lack of compassion. Nevertheless, because the nurse educators understand compassion is significant, there are attempts to settle their differing perspectives and develop compassion in their pedagogical practices. The findings also reveal a dynamic play of moments grasped, missed or negotiated in response to others’ suffering that are interpreted as compassionate or uncompassionate by those who are distressed. Based on the findings, there is an assertion that emotional intelligence is intertwined in compassion as the ability to grasp opportune moments for responding to others’ suffering necessitates self-awareness and recognising and understanding others’ emotions. There is an understanding that it is not always possible to grasp such felt moments due to practical issues and, as such, a negotiated time is planned to Be-with and is interpreted as compassion. The study’s distinct knowledge contribution has implications for nurse education and proposes further training and support is needed for nurse educators to understand and develop compassion in their professional and pedagogical practices.

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