Fostering Compassion In Leadership And Communication In Healthcare

Dr Claudine Kearney
Dr Claudine Kearney


Within healthcare organisations leadership can no longer focus on seniority and formality but the role and contribution each individual plays in the delivery of care throughout the organisation, writes Dr Claudine Kearney (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director) RCSI Graduate School of Healthcare Management

Leadership in healthcare needs to nurture a culture of compassionate care that is patient centred and will enhance patient experience and care, reduce medical errors, infection and mortality, increase staff retention and morale, decrease staff turnover, absenteeism, stress and burnout. Central to compassionate leadership in healthcare is effective communication. Open, transparent channels of communication that build trust and encourage individuals at all levels to share ideas, concerns and provide constructive feedback for the greater good of patient care.

Leadership With Compassion

Compassionate leaders require open, honest communication and engagement, empathy and understanding support for followers. Developing compassionate leadership necessitates recognition and support to healthcare professionals working in a challenging and at times unprecedented healthcare environment. This means providing a trustful, respectful and supportive environment, sharing of competencies, appropriate training and development, ensuring staff well-being and retention. Within healthcare, compassion needs to be front and centre of every decision, action and reaction.

Healthcare leaders and healthcare professionals have a duty of care to themselves, to each other, to patients and need to embody compassion. Healthcare leaders need to be compassionate in their support for staff. Compassion needs to be with oneself, so that we can demonstrate compassion towards others. Building on the work of Professor Michael West the core value of leading with compassion in healthcare is attending and listening with fascination, understanding what others face, demonstrating empathy and care, helping and support within your own area and across boundaries (West and Chowla, 2017). Despite the challenges and complexity of healthcare compassion, empathy, humanity, kindness and respect for all staff and patients are integral to the delivery of effective healthcare.

Compassionate leadership and care benefits leaders, healthcare professionals and patients. Behaviours are mirrored and therefore when healthcare professionals have a compassionate leader, they are more likely to demonstrate that compassion towards themselves, team members and patients, resulting in a virtuous spiral. Compassionate care results in patients being more satisfied and this in turn has a positive impact on the health, well-being and dedication of staff. Communication is paramount in delivering value based patient centred compassionate healthcare.

Effective Communication In Healthcare

Leaders must use appropriate channels of communication to interact with healthcare professionals, staff, and patients, develop an open-door policy, and create a culture that strives to advance communication excellence. Communication must always be respectful, accurate, concise, timely, and demonstrate compassion. Clarity in communication is vital particularly in this digital age, when electronic messages such as texts and emails can be quickly written, and can result in errors or lack clarity when they are not reviewed prior to sending. The way information is communicated is very important because the delivery of care involves numerous patient handovers between healthcare professionals, within and across departments as well as interaction with healthcare professionals with diverse areas of specialism and non-medical administration. Healthcare professionals need to collaborate and work together as a team, clearly communicating and sharing information and synergizing on the diverse knowledge and skills to make the best decisions for the delivery of patient care. This requires the ability to clearly explain, actively listen and demonstrate compassion. This has a significant impact on relationships with leaders, colleagues, patients and caregivers.

To advance compassionate leadership we need to ensure our verbal and non-verbal communication consistently demonstrate compassion through attending, understanding, empathising, and helping. It is not just what we say but how we actually say it. Therefore, compassionate patient centred care needs to demonstrate consistency in both verbal and non-verbal communication to contribute to higher standard of care. This requires clarity in communication and information, avoiding jargon or terminology that will not be understood, providing precise instructions and concisely answering questions honestly, respectfully, thoroughly and compassionately. This compassionate and empathetic two-way communication with patients can result in patients being more engaged in their own care and feeling more willing to disclose all relevant information and adhere to recommended medical treatment.

Effective communication within healthcare can increase satisfaction, staff morale and the quality of work relationships, all of which contributes to positive staff and patient outcomes.


Healthcare leaders that are authentic, honest, demonstrate humility, curiosity, optimism, appreciation, and compassion, are better equipped to cope with the challenges and engage with their team (Kearney, 2022). Leaders that are compassionate and focused on their team and patient centred have the ability to encourage and support individuals and team members, work towards the same shared goals and objectives, ensure clear open channels of communication and information sharing, and have a commitment to innovation to deliver the highest standard of patient care.


Kearney, C. (2022) Leading Innovation and entrepreneurship in Healthcare: A Global Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing.

West, M.A., and Chowla, R. (2017). Compassionate leadership for compassionate health care. Compassion: concepts, research and applications. London: Routledge, 237-57.

Note: Further development can be found in the following book:

Kearney, C. (2022) Leading Innovation and entrepreneurship in Healthcare: A Global Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing.