Empathy as an Ethical Imperative

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Abstract

Empathy is an often-discussed topic among nurse scientists, educators, and professional practitioners. There is a small, but growing, body of research with a focus on empathy and its direct impact on clinical patient outcomes. However, nurses continue to place value on behavioral aspects of empathy, such as understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, caring, and perspective taking (Hojat, 2016; Kunyk & Olson, 2001). These empathic behaviors are foundational to establishing the nurse-patient relationship. The nurse-patient relationship is also central to the delivery of ethical patient care (American Nurses Association [ANA], 2015). Ethical care directly reflects elements of professional empathy, such as providing compassionate care, understanding the patient's perspective, and thoughtful consideration of the needs and values of each person (ANA, 2015). Empathy and ethics are connected, and both play a vital role in the decision-making process of nurses, particularly for decisions involving some level of uncertainty that require moral reasoning or values-based judgment (Barlow, Hargreaves, & Gillibrand, 2018).

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