Undergraduate nursing students’ ability to empathize: A qualitative study

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Background:Empathy is of great importance in nursing, as it helps us to see and meet the needs of patients and hence to care for patients in an appropriate way. Therefore, it is of great importance that nursing students and nurses develop their ability to empathize.Objective:The study aimed at gaining knowledge on what characterizes undergraduate nursing students’ ability to empathize with patients during their first practice in a nursing home. In addition, the aim of the study was to investigate what nursing students think is important with regard to upholding their ability to empathize with patients in a professional way.Research design:This research has a phenomenological and hermeneutic design, based on qualitative interviews.Participants and research context:A total of 11 undergraduate nursing students participated in interviews during or right after their first practice in a nursing home.Ethical considerations:Norwegian Social Science Data Services approved the study. Participants were informed that their participation was voluntary. The participants were also assured confidentiality, and they were informed that they could withdraw from the study at any time, without providing any reasons.Findings:What the findings show is that affective empathy is strong among undergraduate nursing students in their first practice. They think the emotions are important to be able to empathize, and they are afraid of becoming indifferent. At the same time, they are afraid that the feelings will hinder them from acting in a professional manner.Discussion:The findings are discussed in light of previous theories on empathy, and especially perspectives on empathy, emotions, and morality.Conclusion:Affective empathy seems to be strong among nursing students, and this may be of great importance to be sensitive to patients’ well-being. However, affective and cognitive empathy should be balanced if nurses will have to meet patients in a professional way.

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