Conflicts and con-fusions confounding compassionate care: A compassion café account of the experiences of critical care nurses

Jennifer (Jenny) Jones1, Professor Amanda Henderson2, Assoc Professor Marion Mitchell3, Petra Strube4, Dr Sarah Winch5

1 Clinical Ethics Coordinator, Metro South Clinical Ethics Service, Metro South Health
2 Griffith University, Brisbane
3 Griffith University, Brisbane and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane
4 Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane
5 University of Queensland, Brisbane

Due to the social and complex nature of ethics, Peter Isaacs and David Massey contend that a more appropriate question to that which is usually asked (“What ought one to do?”) when faced with an ethical dilemma is ‘“How ought we respond?” where the “we” is inclusive of all significant stakeholders, and the outcome proposed might evoke or demand a complex range of practical responses’ (1994, p.2). The question of “how ought we respond?” is vitally important in all healthcare settings. In complex critical care units such as intensive care, the diverse patient groups, the range of health disciplines, and the demanding priorities when delivering high acuity care can create difficulties for the individual nurse to maintain shared understandings, values, emotions and behaviours. Intensive care nurses are required to deliver care in situations that confound their feelings and belief systems.

This presentation draws on research conducted within the framework of a Compassion Café (Winch et al. 2014) in which the participants were members of the nursing staff of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a large metropolitan hospital in Australia. Through the creation of a safe space, these ICU nurses reflected upon and spoke of the competing tensions associated with notions of how they “ought” and how they “wanted” to respond. This presentation seeks to build upon shared understandings of nurses’ ability to respond compassionately to their patients, their patients’ families, their colleagues and themselves.


Dr Jenny Jones is the Clinical Ethics Coordinator, Metro South Hospital and Health, Brisbane. She is also an Academic Title Holder, School of Medicine, Griffith University, Gold Coast. Jenny began her working career as a hospital trained registered nurse before moving into education and completing a PhD in Applied Ethics. She is passionate about compassionate rather than procedural driven care. Jenny is married, with 3 adult children and 1 delightful 5 year old grand daughter!

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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