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Learning about compassion during midwifery education: exploring student midwives' perspectives

02 August 2022
12 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 8

Abstract

Background

Although compassionate healthcare is not a new neologism in midwifery, formal study about compassion in undergraduate curricula is relatively unexplored. This research offered an opportunity to explore midwifery students' perspectives of learning about compassion during their course.

Methods

A mixed-methods approach was used to collect data in three phases. First, 24 first-year student midwives completed a free writing exercise. Second, 81 self-completion questionnaires were given to students from all three years. Third, semi-structured interviews in focus groups were conducted with six first-year students, four second-year students and six third-year students. Thematic analysis was used to interpret qualitative findings.

Results

The majority of students reported formal study about and for compassion had increased their understanding of the concept. Midwifery practice placements were reported to support students' learning about compassion.

Conclusions

Formal teaching about compassion during undergraduate midwifery education is recommended. Three distinct, interrelated themes emerged and students' brought their pre-professional life experiences to the classroom and clinical practice; they continued to learn about compassion both formally and informally, depending upon the situations they found themselves in.

The Francis (2013) inquiry recommendations set out improvements required to NHS care, which included a renewed focus on compassion and compassionate care. This prompted increased emphasis on compassion to underscore all areas of healthcare. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC, 2018) code stipulates that care must be compassionate, highlighting the importance of the value to midwives providing care and those supporting student learning. Arguably, this should prompt midwifery educators to consider how future midwives should be educated about and for compassion. Moreover, learning about and for compassion in midwifery education is far from clear. There is little published work about how compassion might be taught and how it may be learned.

Research into how to educate student midwives about compassion may alleviate some of the challenges that educators currently face when deciding how to support students in developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes conducive to showing compassion. Furthermore, sharing that research may help to ensure that concerns about compassion underpinning healthcare will amount to more than simple rhetoric (Pearson, 2018).

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