This month’s blog is written by Dr. Ruth Strudwick. She is an Associate Professor and the Subject Head for Radiography and Interprofessional Learning in the School of Health and Sports Sciences at the University of Suffolk.
When asked to write this blog, I immediately accepted, as patient care has always been a subject close to my heart and as I write this, my Dad is in hospital recovering from major surgery. Often we can write the right words and say the right things, but it only when we start to experience healthcare from ‘both sides’ that we start to understand how important compassionate care is. I have to say that my Dad has been very well cared for and I have seen and experienced first-hand compassionate care, patient-centred care and values-based practice.
In her article, Hendry (2019) proposes a pedagogy for the promotion of compassionate care in radiography. She suggests that we can develop the skills to become compassionate professionals. As radiographers, this may appear to be a difficult concept, due to the history and professional culture that we are part of. The relationship that diagnostic radiographers have with their patients is quite different from the relationship between many other health care professionals and their patients (Murphy, 2006). The diagnostic radiographer spends a relatively short period of time with their patient and the interaction is task focussed, i.e. the production of a diagnostic image. This relationship is therefore transient and the radiographer does not really have the time to get to know their patients (Strudwick, 2011). The therapeutic radiographer may have more time to build up a rapport with their patient as they will attend for treatment on several occasions. However, time constraints and shift patterns (with a lack of radiographer continuity) might compromise this relationship.
The diagnostic radiographer has to both understand and use the equipment to produce a diagnostic image (product) whilst at the same time interact with the patient, in order that the image produced is useful for diagnosis (process) (Strudwick, 2011). This could also be applied to the therapeutic radiographer. As early as 1978, these two seemingly contradictory roles of the radiographer were noted by Fengler (1978), who said that the diagnostic radiographer needs to have both a technical and psychosocial ability in order to look after their patient. McKenna-Adler (1990) agrees with this notion and claims that diagnostic radiographers carry out two potentially conflicting roles, both technologist and carer. He calls this a technology-humanism dualism.
In her paper Hendry uses a definition of compassion written by Willis (2015): ‘…how care is given through relationships based on empathy, respect and dignity; it can also be described as intelligent kindness and is central to how people perceive their care’.
It is easy for radiography students to see the importance of the technical aspects of their role, in this case the use of imaging equipment and the production of a diagnostic image. However, we should not lose sight of the person who is our service user. It is equally important to build relationship by finding out about their needs and what is important to them, developing empathy, being respectful and maintaining their dignity.
Hendry uses another definition of compassion from Dewar (2011): ‘…involves noticing another person’s vulnerability, experiencing an emotional reaction to this, and acting in some way with the person, in a way that is meaningful for people.’
This suggests that compassionate care should come from an emotional response to the other person, and there should be a resulting action from this response. This is where reflection comes in, we (and our students) can reflect on our emotional responses and our actions when interacting with our service users. Refection can promote compassion though modification of our responses and our behaviours.
We should also acknowledge that service users are also educators and can provide feedback on the care that they receive and they should be partners in their own care. Shared and informed decision-making are key to compassionate and values-based care. We need to be open to learn from our service users.
Back to my Dad, his care has been compassionate and values-based. All of the staff have taken time to give clear explanations about what is happening and the possible treatment options. They have taken time to get to know him as a person and to find out what is important to him. I have also learnt from this, but by being on ‘the other side’. Every day is a day to learn.
Fengler K (1978) The patient-care gap. Radiol Technol 49(5) p599-600.
Hendry J (2019) Promoting compassionate care in radiography – What might be suitable pedagogy? A discussion paper. Radiography 25 (2019) p269-273.
McKenna-Adler A (1990) High technology: miracle or malady for patient care. Radiol Technol 61; p478-481.
Murphy F J (2006) The paradox of imaging technology: A review of the literature. Radiography. 12, 169-174.
Strudwick R, Mackay S & Hicks S (2011) Is Diagnostic Radiography a Caring Profession? Synergy, June 2011, p4-7.
Willis P (2015) Raising the bar: Shape of caring: a review of the future education and training of registered nurses and care assistants. Health Education England, London.