Do Empaths Make Great Nurses?

The career path of a nurse is often considered to be one of the most caring, compassionate, and selfless jobs that you can work in. Nurses need to be able to treat their patients with empathy, kindness, and compassion – it’s just as important in this role as providing the right medical care. For this reason, empaths and highly empathetic people tend to make excellent nurses since they are able to put themselves in the shoes of their patients, imagine how they must be feeling even if they’ve never experienced it themselves, and treat them in a way that they would want to be treated.

Known throughout the role of nursing as ‘bedside manner’, empathy and how nurses treat patients is one of the most important factors of this role. Patients will often interact with nurses when they are in pain, scared, confused, or immediately after a serious accident or health scare where they are in need of reassurance and somebody to make sure that they feel seen and heard. Empathy is a key part of working as a great nurse, and the caring nature of the role often attracts people who have lots of empathy for others and enjoy helping others in their day-to-day life. Let’s take a look at what empathy is, why it’s so important in nursing, and why people with high empathy levels tend to make the best nurses.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is an ability that most humans have to some extent; some more than others. It is the ability to identify with the feelings and thoughts of others and imagine how they must be feeling in a certain situation. If you have ever seen somebody in pain or upset and have been able to immediately imagine how they must be feeling in the moment, you have been empathetic.

Empathy is important in nursing as many of the patients that nurses work with on a daily basis are going to come into the hospital or clinic feeling in pain, unwell, and often frightened. Due to this, it may sometimes be the case that patients are demanding, rude, or mean to nurses – they don’t mean it, but are frustrated, hurting, and scared. A nurse with a lot of empathy knows that these patients aren’t being personal. They can imagine how they might feel if they were in the same situation and extend this empathy to the patient as they treat and care for them, allowing them to feel put at ease, heard, and cared for during their ordeal.

Empathy in nursing means understanding the reasons behind a patients’ negative action or attitude. Empaths make great nurses as they naturally understand that the patient is acting out because of the situation that they are in and will usually naturally be drawn towards helping them out and making them feel more comfortable. A highly empathetic nurse will be able to empathize with the fact that sometimes, patients can find it difficult to get answers to their questions, and it can be frustrating for patients who feel like they are not being listened to or that they have been overlooked. A nurse with a lot of empathy will be able to understand that a patient might be feeling nervous or frightened about a potential diagnosis or facing worries about the cost of their healthcare and will be able to provide the reassurance that patients need in these situations.

How Empathy is Practiced in Nursing:

An empathetic nurse starts out by putting himself or herself in the patient’s shoes and imagining how they must be feeling right now. They do not focus on what the patient is doing or saying that might not be pleasant for the nurse but are instead focused on understanding what the patient is going through and how they can help. Empaths are people who are often highly skilled at seeing things from a lot of different perspectives, and they may also be able to pick up on feelings and moods, which can make it easier for them to do this for their patients as a nurse. To be more empathetic, nurses will often take the time to talk to their patients and find out more about the fears and concerns that they have. Along with using active listening skills, empathetic nurses are also very observant of body language and tend to immediately know the difference between a patient who is being honest with them and a patient who is trying to put on a brave face so as not to be a bother.

In a nursing career, empathy is a hugely important quality to possess and demonstrate when dealing with not just patients, but also their family members. Nurses will also have to communicate with the loved ones of their patients to update them on their relative’s condition or sometimes be the bearer of bad news. It’s understandable that family members might be feeling stressed, upset, lost, anxious, and helpless when their loved one has been admitted to the hospital and all they can do is wait for news. A highly empathetic nurse will be able to put family members at ease and understand why they too might be acting out of character due to fear and anxiety.

Empathetic Qualities That Make an Empath a Great Nurse:

An empath is described as an individual that is highly in tune with the emotions and feelings of the people around them. These people often have a skillful ability to understand what others are feeling that goes beyond empathy; they will often take those feelings on and be able to feel what the other people are feeling on a deeper and more emotional level. Empaths have a lot of skills and qualities that make them excellent nurses, including:

·         Non-Judgmental:

Since empaths are often more able to understand how a person is feeling, they are less likely to judge as they have a deeper understanding of the reasons behind somebody’s actions. One of the most important qualities for nurses is to be able to act without judgment when it comes to working with patients. As nurses, empaths are often much more interested in finding out why something has happened or why a patient has done something rather than judging them for any perceived shortcomings. When a patient is acting out or being rude to the nurse, an empathetic nurse is more interested in finding out what is causing those actions – is that patient stressed, scared, or in pain? They will focus their energies on putting the patient’s mind at rest and finding out more about the reasons behind the outburst so that they can do whatever they can to help.

·         Empathetic Listening:

Listening to others is another key skill that nurses must possess to do well in this role. Empaths who become nurses are often naturally excited about getting to know other people, especially when there are feelings and emotions that they can sense since they will want to know more about what is behind them and if there is anything that they can personally do to ease the stress and make the patient more relaxed and comfortable. Nurses need to be constantly listening to their patients to make sure that they are getting the right care. Not only do nurses need to be aware of anything the patient is telling them related to their condition or symptoms, but they also need to listen out for signs of stress, anxiety, worry, fear, and discomfort so that they can offer a listening ear and be there for the patient wherever possible.

Top Ways to Demonstrate Empathy in Nursing:

While empaths might be naturally better at being highly empathetic nurses, even nurses who are not an empath can do several things throughout the job to demonstrate more empathy and build stronger relationships with their patients. While there is a lot that you will learn about this career while getting your nursing degree or an advanced qualification such as an RN to MSN from Wilkes University, empathy is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Some simple ways that nurses demonstrate empathy on the job include:

·         Observant Attitude:

Empathetic nurses tend to have a very observant attitude towards their patients. They are always on the lookout for any signs of distress, anxiety, or pain that they can try to ease for the patient. Empaths who become nurses tend to be very attuned to this and are more likely to notice even the smallest nonverbal cues that could suggest that there is something a patient is not telling them. Sometimes, patients don’t want to be a burden or cause any worry to anybody, and they will try and hide how they are really feeling but their body language can give it away.

·         Eye Contact:

Empathetic nurses want their patients to feel safe around them. Whether they are speaking or listening to their patient, they will make eye contact, which is one of the simplest yet the most powerful way to show that you are empathizing with them and understand how they feel. For nurses, making and holding eye contact is not always easy since nurses have a lot of other things to focus on when they are administering patient care. But nurses with a high level of empathy will make eye contact as much as possible to ensure that patients feel noticed, seen, and understood.

·         Challenging Prejudices:

Even the most open-minded and non-judgmental of people will have some prejudices. Even if you tend to accept and empathize with everybody as a nurse, there might be some people that you feel less comfortable around compared to others. Challenging any personal prejudices that you have will help you apply more empathy in the workplace and imagine what life may be like for those people.

Challenges of Nursing for Empaths:

Overall, empaths make excellent nurses since they are connected to the feelings and emotions of others, allowing them to empathize a lot with their patients and provide them with a more personal level of care and attention when they are going through a tough time in their life. Empaths who become nurses are more likely to pick up on the underlying feelings of fear, pain, and anxiety that patients might be feeling when they are in the hospital and acting out as a result. Patients are more likely to be seen, heard, and understood when they have a nurse who is an empath or has a very high level of empathy for them.

However, there is also a lot of challenges that can come with being a nurse when you are also an empath. Being connected to people’s emotional states in such a way that you can actually feel what they are feeling, which can get very mentally exhausting and draining over time. Research on empaths suggest that they are more likely to feel overwhelmed when they are around lots of people, especially at emotionally charged events or situations because they are soaking up the emotions of everybody around them. Understandably, this could become difficult for nurses who work in settings like the ER or ICU.

To be successful as a nurse, it’s important for empaths to make the right choices when it comes to the work that they do. Taking care of themselves and being honest about the impact of the job on their emotional state is also important. Empaths might find it easier to work as a nurse in a setting that is not as emotionally charged as others, such as doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics where they are more likely to be dealing with patients and family members who are not seriously impacted and are less likely to be highly emotional.

Empaths are people who have another level of empathy, allowing them to soak up and understand the feelings of others more so than most people. While this can make them excellent nurses who can help their patients feel seen, heard, and understood very easily, it can also be challenging.

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