Can compassion be taught? A medical students' compassion discourse

Cathie, Victoria, Whan, Katie, Montgomery, Julia, Martin, Claire and Ramage, Charlotte (2017) Can compassion be taught? A medical students' compassion discourse. MedEdPublish, 6 (2). p. 30. ISSN 2312–7996

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Universities of Brighton, Surrey and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School responded to a regional bid to provide compassion awareness training to the local health care workforce. An appreciative inquiry methodology was used to develop a toolkit which included a number of different activities focused on the following pillars. Appreciate (best of what has been), imagine (what might be), determine (what should be) and finally create (what will be). One of the toolkit resources focused on seeking and celebrating acts of compassion.


Following a cultivating compassion workshop, a group of medical students in their third year decided to use this activity from the Compassion toolkit to observe acts of compassion occurring within their clinical setting and reflected on the impact this activity had on them.


Themes deduced from the 34 acts of compassion witnessed included; team compassion, patient-centred compassion, peer to peer compassion and patient to patient compassion. Students’ reflections about undertaking this activity were thematically analysed and emerging themes included self compassion, confidence about talking about compassion, changes in behaviour and finally how could compassion be taught at medical school.


This study generated discussions on what was the difference between acts of compassion and normal human behaviour and the “hidden curriculum” of health professionals’ behaviour. Students realised the importance of compassion and yet the absence of that word within their own curriculum. This small pilot study made it possible to consider how compassion can be taught within the undergraduate curriculum, simply by empowering students to open their eyes and witness compassionate acts. The medical students were able to see compassionate behaviour that they wished to model and that would support them once qualified.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Compassion, medical education
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Division of Medical Education
Depositing User: Elizabeth Renvoize
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2017 13:22
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 16:34

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