Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Compassion

Compassion can be learnt and must be integrated into practice

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 28 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4602
  1. Susan Maciver, convenor, adult counselling service1,
  2. Chris McGregor, counsellor1,
  3. Jenny Robertson, member1,
  4. Tom C Russ, member1,
  5. Christine Wilson, organisational consultant1
  6. On behalf of the Working with Older People Steering Group
  1. 1Working with Older People Steering Group, Human Development Scotland, Edinburgh EH3 8EB, UK
  1. tom.russ{at}

The word compassion is often heard in connection with care provided by health and social care professionals but often without the thoughtful attitude seen in Chadwick’s article.1 We have previously suggested that compassion is in danger of becoming a jargon term and, as a result, losing some of its power.2

Frontline care workers need training and support in recognising and coping with the range of feelings—positive and negative—engendered by some people they have to care for. It has long been recognised that these feelings are highly relevant to quality of care and are ignored at our peril.3 People working in caring roles need to know that it is OK to feel powerful negative feelings, such as disgust, impatience, and even hatred, but that they must find strategies and resources within themselves not to act on these feelings. Perhaps care teams could be encouraged to articulate such feelings—whether in Schwartz rounds1 or in Balint groups4—to identify people in the team who can have a positive regard for certain patients while others hold to the basic courtesies. We all know that our personal reactions to other people vary enormously and have their origins in our own stories.

We need a more open dialogue about fostering compassion. As Chadwick suggests it can’t be prescribed, but it isn’t a happy extra that is wonderful when it happens. We believe that it can be learnt and must be integrated into practice.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4602


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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