Evolution through experience: how Scottish student nurses develop their understanding of compassionate care

D.J. Hunter, J. McCallum, D. Howes

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


BackgroundCompassion is currently at the forefront of healthcare policy and is debated both nationally and internationally in relation to practice and education (Dewar, 2013). This paper reports of some of the findings of a doctoral study which explored student nurses experiences of compassionate care within the Emergency Department. One research question was to explore how student nurses develop their understanding of compassionate care.
Methodology and MethodThe underpinning methodology was that of an exploratory-descriptive qualitative (EDQ) design, based upon the work of Sandelowski (2000) and Stebbins (2001). Following ethical approval, data was collected via individual, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with 15 participants (year 1 = 5, year 2 = 5 and year 3 = 5) from across four different geographical locations in the West of Scotland. These interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Thematic data analysis was then undertaken.
FindingsStudents described three generic elements which enable them to develop their understanding of compassionate care. These were: •The influence of theory•The influence of previous practice learning experiences•Reflection
In addition, but specifically in relation to their experiences in the Emergency Department, students described how dealing with death and its consequences in this clinical environment had also shaped their understanding of compassionate care. 
DiscussionThe findings from this study mirror the suggestion of Curtis et al. (2012) that student nurses are expected to develop their understanding of compassionate care from both nursing theory and through exposure in practice learning. Additionally, the findings support the assertion of Millar (2014) that a variety of practice learning experiences enhances students development of a patient-centred approach to care. The students emphasised the need to take time to reflect on what they had been exposed to and use that reflection to influence their future practice. This related to both compassionate care and wider nursing activities. Students also reported that reflection was actively encouraged by members of the Emergency Department staff, particularly following a difficult or traumatic patient encounter. Additionally, students in this study discussed their experiences of dealing with death and its consequences whilst in the Emergency Department. Although challenging, the experiences they described were overwhelmingly positive examples of the provision of compassionate care. The students highlighted how these events had shaped their understanding of compassionate care and would influence their future nursing practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2018
Event7th International Nurse Education Conference: Research, scholarship and evaluation: ensuring nursing leadership in education, practice and healthcare - Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, Canada
Duration: 6 May 20189 May 2018


Conference7th International Nurse Education Conference
Abbreviated titleNETNEP 2018
Internet address


  • student nurses
  • compassionate care


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