Research Article| Volume 24, ISSUE 1, P85-91, February 2017

Building compassion literacy: Enabling care in primary health care nursing

Published:October 02, 2015DOI:


      This paper introduces the concept of compassion literacy and discusses its place in nursing within the general practice setting. Compassion literacy is a valuable competency for sustaining the delivery of high quality care. Being compassion literate enables practice nurses to provide compassionate care to their patients and to recognise factors that may constrain this. A compassion literate practice nurse may be more protected from compassion fatigue and its negative consequences. Understanding how to enable self-compassion and how to support the delivery of compassionate care within the primary care team can enhance the care experienced by the patient while improving the positive engagement and satisfaction of the health professionals. The capacity to deliver compassionate care can be depleted by the day-to-day demands of the clinical setting. Compassion literacy enables the replenishing of compassion, but the development of compassion literacy can be curtailed by personal and workplace barriers. This paper articulates why compassion literacy should be an integral aspect of practice nursing and considers strategies for enabling compassion literacy to develop and thrive within the workplace environment. Compassion literacy is also a valuable opportunity for practice nurses to demonstrate their key role within the multidisciplinary team of general practice, directly enhancing the quality of the care delivered.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Collegian
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Abendroth M.
        • Flannery J.
        Predicting the risk of compassion fatigue: A study of hospice nurses.
        Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2006; 8: 346-356
        • Ahmed M.
        Defining and measuring literacy: Facing the reality.
        International Review of Education. 2011; 57: 179-195
      1. Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association. About General Practice Nursing. Retrieved from

        • Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association
        Definition of primary health care nursing.
        2012 (Retrieved from
        • Beagan B.
        • Ells C.
        Values that matter, barriers that interfere: The struggle of Canadian nurses to enact their values.
        Canadian Journal of Nursing Research. 2009; 41: 86-107
        • Boyle D.
        Countering compassion fatigue: A requisite nursing agenda.
        Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 2011; 16: 2 Vol16No01Man02
        • Burnell L.
        Compassionate care: A concept analysis.
        Home Health Care Management Practice. 2009; 21: 319-324
        • Cole-King A.
        • Gilbert P.
        Compassionate care: The theory and the reality.
        Journal of Holistic Healthcare. 2011; 8: 29-37
        • Cornwell J.
        • Goodrich J.
        Exploring how to enable compassionate care in hospital to improve patient experience.
        Nursing Times. 2009; 105: 14-21
        • Curtis K.
        • Horton K.
        • Smith P.
        Student nurse socialisation in compassionate practice: A Grounded Theory study.
        Nurse Education Today. 2012; 32: 790-795
        • Dewar B.
        Cultivating compassionate care.
        Nursing Standard. 2013; 27: 48-55
        • de Zulueta P.
        Compassion in healthcare.
        Clinical Ethics. 2013; 8: 87-90
        • Department of Health and Aging
        National primary health care strategic framework.
        Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra2013 (Retrieved from
        • Dubin F.
        • Kuhlman N.A.
        The dimensions of cross-cultural literacy.
        in: Dubin F. Kuhlman N.A. Cross-cultural literacy: Global perspectives on reading and writing. Regents/Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ1992 (pp. v–x)
        • El-Bar N.
        • Levy A.
        • Wald H.
        • Biderman A.
        Compassion fatigue, burnout and compassion satisfaction among family physicians in the Negev area – a cross-sectional study.
        Israel Journal of Health Policy Research. 2013; 15: 31
        • Figley C.
        Compassion fatigue as secondary traumatic stress disorder: An overview.
        in: Figley C. Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. Brunner-Routledge, New York1995: 1-20
        • Firth-Cozens J.
        • Cornwell J.
        The point of care: Enabling compassionate care in acute hospital settings.
        The King's Fund, London2009
        • Frampton S.
        • Guastello S.
        • Lepore M.
        Compassion as the foundation of patient-centered care: The importance of compassion in action.
        Journal of Comparative Effectiveness Research. 2013; 2: 443-455
        • Francis R.
        Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS foundation trust public inquiry: Executive summary.
        The Stationery Office, UK2013
        • Freshwater D.
        • Cahill J.
        Care and compromise: Developing a conceptual framework for work-related stress.
        Journal of Research in Nursing. 2010; 15: 173-183
        • Halcomb E.
        • Davidson P.
        • Salamonson Y.
        • Ollerton R.
        • Griffiths R.
        Nurses in Australian general practice: Implications for chronic disease management.
        Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2008; 17: 6-15
        • Hegney D.
        • Craigie M.
        • Hemsworth D.
        • Osseiran-Moisson R.
        • Aoun S.
        • Francis K.
        • Drury V.
        Compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression and stress in registered nurses in Australia: Study 1 results.
        Journal of Nursing Management. 2014; 22: 506-518
        • Hooper C.
        • Craig J.
        • Janvrin D.R.
        • Wetsel M.A.
        • Reimels E.
        Compassion satisfaction, burnout, and compassion fatigue among emergency nurses compared with nurses in other selected inpatient specialties.
        Journal of Emergency Nursing. 2010; 36: 420-427
        • Joyce C.
        • Piterman L.
        The work of nurses in Australian general practice: A national survey.
        International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2011; 48: 70-80
        • Keleher H.
        • Joyce C.
        • Parker R.
        • Piterman L.
        Practice nurses in Australia: Current issues and future directions.
        Medical Journal of Australia. 2007; 187: 108-110
        • Lazarus R.
        Emotion and adaptation.
        Oxford Press, New York1991
        • McGaghie W.
        • Mytko J.
        • Brown W.
        • Cameron J.
        Altruism and compassion in the health professions: A search for clarity and precision.
        Medical Teacher. 2002; 24: 374-378
        • Miscoe M.
        Not documented, not done: Medicare myth or rule?.
        The Journal of Medical Practice Management. 2008; 23: 336-338
        • Nouwen H.
        • McNeill D.
        • Morrison D.
        Compassion: A reflection on the christian life.
        Darton, Longman and Todd, London1982
        • Ntiri D.
        Toward a functional and culturally salient definition of literacy.
        Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal. 2009; 3: 97-104
      2. Oxford English Dictionary Online.
        Oxford University Press, June 2015 (Retrieved from
        • Pearce C.
        • Hall S.
        • Phillips C.
        When policy meets the personal: General practice nurses in Australia.
        Journal of Health Services Research and Policy. 2010; 15: 26-34
        • Phillips C.
        • Pearce C.
        • Hall S.
        • Kljakovic M.
        • Sibbald B.
        • Dwan K.
        • et al.
        Enhancing care, improving quality: The six roles of the general practice nurse.
        Medical Journal of Australia. 2009; 191: 92-97
        • Potter P.
        • Deshields T.
        • Divanbeigi J.
        • Berger J.
        • Cipriano D.
        • Norris L.
        • Olsen S.
        Compassion fatigue and burnout: Prevalence among oncology nurses.
        Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2010; 14: E56-E62
        • Redsell S.
        • Stokes T.
        • Jackson C.
        • Hastings A.
        • Baker R.
        Patients’ accounts of the differences in nurses’ and general practitioners’ roles in primary care.
        Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2007; 57: 172-180
        • Sabo B.
        Reflecting on the concept of compassion fatigue.
        Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 2011; 16: 1 Vol16No01Man01
        • Sabo B.
        Compassion fatigue and nursing work: Can we accurately capture the consequences of caring work?.
        International Journal of Nursing Practice. 2006; 12: 136-142
        • Rolfe G.
        Closing the theory-practice gap: A model of nursing praxis.
        Journal of Clinical Nursing. 1993; 2: 173-177
        • Schantz M.
        Compassion: A concept analysis.
        Nursing Forum. 2007; 42: 48-55
        • Severn M.
        • Searchfield G.
        • Huggard P.
        Occupational stress amongst audiologists: Compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and burnout.
        International Journal of Audiology. 2012; 51: 3-9
        • Straughair C.
        Exploring compassion: Implications for contemporary nursing, Part 1.
        British Journal of Nursing. 2012; 21: 160-164
        • Straughair C.
        Exploring compassion: Implications for contemporary nursing, Part 2.
        British Journal of Nursing. 2012; 21: 239
        • Teytelman Y.
        Effective nursing documentation and communication.
        Seminars in Oncology Nursing. 2002; 18: 121-127
        • van der Cingel M.
        Compassion and professional care: Exploring the domain.
        Nursing Philosophy. 2009; 10: 124-136
        • Von Dietze E.
        • Orb A.
        Compassionate care: A moral dimension of nursing.
        Nursing Inquiry. 2000; 7: 166-174
        • Winch S.
        • Henderson A.
        • Jones J.
        Recognizing the dialectic of compassionate care in the workplace: Feedback from nurse educators.
        Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing. 2015; 46: 228-232
        • Winch S.
        • Henderson J.
        • Kay M.
        • Burridge L.
        • Livesay G.
        • Sinnott M.
        Understanding compassion literacy in nursing through a clinical compassion cafe.
        Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing. 2014; 45: 484-486