Patient Engagement

Can Compassion as a Way of Being Improve Healthcare

A blog request for a compassion way of being came in as I was packing to leave for Australia, so it was on my mind as I experienced a small part of that beautiful country and the people who live there.

Without one exception, every encounter I had was ‘compassionate’. Each person I met went beyond my expectations for assistance. In Perth I asked for directions to the local coffee shop. I was personally escorted to the desired establishment and treated to a cappuccino (coffee wouldn’t do). When seeking the correct departure platform in a busy and overwhelming Sydney ‘train’ (subway) station, the train employee said, “I’ll show you the way”. He led me around the corner and down the stairs. He then gave more of his time to tell me the ideal place to stand for the train, expected time of arrival, and best exit for my destination. While having a picnic lunch near the Blue Mountains, a local first asked to sit with us, then asked about our journey and interests, before sharing his travel recommendations.

Was it my Canadian accent that gave me away, that engendered such kindness and generosity? Or was it simply a ‘way of being’, a way in which Australians routinely conduct themselves and live their lives? I tend to think that it was the latter.

As I reflected on whether this met the criteria for ‘compassion’ I began to think more about how compassion is enacted. Is it willingness to take time to understand and then meet a person exactly where they are, to be with them at that place, and then offer to take them further, if they so desire? Without judgement or consequence, if that is not their wish? Is it the ability to offer one’s own time to help another, to share a moment of one’s own perspective or life; an openness and willingness to walk with others in their journey?

Dewar (2013, p. 1741) states “Compassion implies a level of reciprocity and interdependence. Compassion is not so much about what we choose to do for other people, but what we choose to do together.” 1, 2.

If we internalized a compassionate ‘way of being’, would it change our realization of healthcare in Canada? Would it become automatic to listen with great care to discover where the individual is located, before moving to care options and choices?  Could we offer to guide through next steps while respecting decisions made about directions? Would we be more successful in helping our patients with their journeys? Perhaps we could become reputed as those Canadian healthcare professionals who enact compassion as our ‘way or being’.

In our 2015-16 AMS Phoenix Grant, we are working with service recipients, healthcare and community workers, to better understand compassionate person-centred mental health services and related educational needs in three rural communities.3. There are many additional lessons that we are learning in these new travels. I resolve to be very mindful of the lessons the Australians taught me as we travel forward together.


  1. Dewar, B., Adamson, E., Smith, S., Surfleet, J., & King, L. (2014). Clarifying misconceptions about compassionate care. Journal of advanced nursing, 70(8), 1738-1747.
  2. Compassionate Collaborative Care Module, Sponsored by AMS Phoenix and Queen’s University Faculty of Health Sciences (2015). Retrieved June 9, 2016 at
  3. Brander, R., Carmichael, K., Oczkowski, Y., Briggs, M., Edge, D., Donnelly, C., Horgan, S. (2016). Learning and working together for compassionate rural healthcare. Paper presented at the 2016 Practice-Based Education Summit, Sydney, Australia. April 14, p. 11.


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