Learning empathy as a care giver takes more than experience

March 09, 2020

PHILADELPHIA - Poverty takes a toll on health in many ways. It often causes malnutrition and hunger, creates barriers to access basic resources, and can also impact well-being in more subtle ways linked to social discrimination and exclusion. Nurses, one of the most important healthcare providers, serve both as advocates for patients and as their most constant caregivers. They are trained to provide compassionate care to all. New research from Thomas Jefferson University shows that existing training may not adequately challenge nursing students' pre-existing assumptions about poverty, and that more needs to be done to help nurses reflect on their role in combating the societal stigma of poverty.

"We should be trained, as nurses, to empathize with our patients and ultimately to help close the gap in health disparities," says author Karen Alexander, PhD, RN, "In our research, we wanted to look at whether or not past experiences with poverty (either lived or as a volunteer) gave nurses a stronger sense of empathy towards populations experiencing poverty."

The results were published March 5th in the https://www.healio.com/nursing/journals/jne/2020-3-59-3/%7B3371cd38-5176-4dda-a2e5-bc6ca21259dc%7D/the-relationship-between-past-experience-empathy-and-attitudes-toward-poverty">Journal of Nursing Education.

The researchers surveyed 104 nursing students using the Jefferson Empathy Scale, an internationally-used tool to measure empathy in healthcare contexts, and a second validated survey called Attitudes Towards Poverty (short form) at one time point. They also collected demographic information on students, which included questions on exposure to poverty through lived experience or volunteer experience, as well as age, gender, ethnicity, religion and others.

"What surprised us at first was that personal experience with poverty didn't necessarily yield higher empathy scores," says Dr. Alexander. "In fact, the scores were the same as average. What was more surprising was that those students who had interacted with poverty through volunteer experiences had lower empathy scores than the remainder of the cohort."

"The volunteer experience is central to a lot of medical and nursing-school pedagogy," says Dr. Alexander. "It's this idea that exposure is enough to help challenge assumptions, and remove stigma. But it may not have the effect we think it's having. Our results suggest that service learning isn't enough, and it may be, in fact, detrimental."

Students may bring their biases to volunteer experiences, Dr. Alexander explained, and may have those biases confirmed rather than challenged.

One intervention that Dr. Alexander finds particularly useful to gently help identify and help dismantle each student's pre-existing opinions surrounding poverty is self-reflection through journaling and peer-reflection and discussion.

"It's important for students to be able to see themselves in their patients. To think 'that could be me or someone I know.' It's hard to get to that position in the absence of a meaningful relationship," says Dr. Alexander.
-end-
Article Reference: Karen Alexander, Valerie Clary-Muronda, Jamie M. Smith, Julia Ward, "The relationship between past experience, empathy and attitudes towards poverty," Journal of Nursing Education, DOI: 10.3928/01484834-20200220-07, 2020.

Media Contact: Edyta Zielinska, 215-955-7359, edyta.zielinska@jefferson.edu.

Thomas Jefferson University

Related Poverty Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 second wave in Myanmar causes dramatic increases in poverty
New evidence combining surveys from urban and rural Myanmar and simulation analysis find COVID-19 second wave dramatically increasing poverty and food insecurity.

Advancing the accurate tracking of energy poverty
IIASA researchers have developed a novel measurement framework to track energy poverty that better aligns with the services people lack rather than capturing the mere absence of physical connections to a source of electricity.

If you're poor, poverty is an environmental issue
A survey from Cornell researchers -- conducted among more than 1,100 US residents -- found that there were, in fact, demographic differences in how people viewed environmental issues, with racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income people more likely to consider human factors such as racism and poverty as environmental, in addition to more ecological issues like toxic fumes from factories or car exhaust.

Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents
Between 2007 to 2016, nearly 21,000 children ages 5-19 years old died by suicide.

New index maps relationships between poverty and accessibility in Brazil
Poor transportation availability can result in poor access to health care and employment, hence reinforcing the cycle of poverty and concerning health outcomes such as low life expectancy and high child mortality in rural Brazil.

Repeated periods of poverty accelerate the ageing process
People who have found themselves below the relative poverty threshold four or more times in their adult life age significantly earlier than others.

Poverty as disease trap
The realities of subsistence living in a region of Senegal hard hit by schistosomiasis make reinfection likely, despite mass drug administration.

Persistent poverty affects one in five UK children
Persistent poverty affects one in five children in the UK, and is associated with poor physical and mental health in early adolescence, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Poverty leaves a mark on our genes
In this study, researchers found evidence that poverty can become embedded across wide swaths of the genome.

Satellite images reveal global poverty
How far have we come in achieving the UN's sustainable development goals that we are committed to nationally and internationally?

Read More: Poverty News and Poverty Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.