10 Questions to Ask During a Nursing Job Interview

Nursing Interviews can be intimidating no matter if it’s your first interview out of nursing school or if you are looking to branch out after working in the same unit for a while. However, many people forget that an interview not only sells you as a potential future employee but also the workplace as well. Here are 10 good questions to ask to make you appear qualified and prepared while also giving you an idea of whether the open job is a good fit for you. In addition to this, doing research on the institution itself will make you seem even more knowledgeable and put together. 

1. What is Your Average Nurse to Patient Ratio?

Asking about patient ratios is very important. It gives you insight into the patient safety of the institution and what their staffing looks like. Hospitals and clinics with normal patient ratios will likely make mandating and mandatory overtime less common. Many states have laws on the highest legal amount of patients per every nurse, and these ratios change depending on the unit type. For example, in the operating room the ratio is 1:1, but in many other units the average ratio is 1:5. This is a particularly good question to ask if you have experienced problems with this in the past. 

2. How often is Floating Required, and Where Would I Float to? 

Depending on the hospital, you may need to float to other units when staffing in those areas are low. It is good to ask this question in a nursing interview in order to get an accurate idea for what the working environment is like, and it helps you to prepare for it if you get the job. Depending on if this is important to you, it can let you realize whether or not you want to work at that unit early on. 

3. What Self Care Strategies do You Encourage Your Staff to Practice? 

Although nursing is an extremely rewarding profession, it can also be very stressful and demanding. Self care can really make the difference, however; and having a self care routine can greatly reduce your chances for burnout. Asking an interviewer about what self care strategies they promote for their nurses can provide insight on how well they protect and treat their staff on a daily basis. 

4. How do the Staff Collaborate Here? 

This is a great way to get some insight into workplace culture. Collaborative nursing has numerous benefits including improved patient outcomes, boosted morale, and overall reduced healthcare costs. It is only natural to want to work in a healthcare setting like this, and you might be able to see if this important trait is present even during the interview. 

5. How do You Provide Feedback? 

Knowing how management and other staff provide feedback and constructive criticism is crucial. This nursing interview question paints a picture of how the medical staff is treated, how mistakes are corrected, and the quality of patient care in a particular healthcare center. Providing good constructive criticism and recognizing outstanding work are key elements to a productive and content medical staff. 

6. Do You Like Working Here? 

This is a good question to ask during a nursing interview. No one wants to work in a place where the current employees are unhappy. It may be a good idea to ask the other staff members how they like their work environment as well if you get the chance. This will give you better insight into whether you want the job or not. 

7. What is This Units Turnover Rate? 

This also gives you a pretty good idea about the quality of patient care and work environment. Asking about staff turnover lets you know how many nurses are either let go or quit, and a high turnover rate is a huge red flag. Nurse burnout is a very serious and real phenomenon and the workplace environment can be a large factor. 

8. What is Your Management Style? 

Everyone reacts differently to different management tactics. Although this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker if a unit doesn’t follow your ideal management style, it can help you to see if a position is a good fit for you. It could also greatly affect staff morale and stress levels. 

9. Are There Opportunities for Continued Education? 

Medicine is a field that is always changing. No matter if you are an LPN, NP, or anything in between continued education in the medical field is extremely important. Depending on the unit and position, a medical center may offer things like nurse workshops and conferences to keep your skills sharp. It might also be a good idea to ask about bridge programs such as RN to NP programs depending on your situation and aspirations. 

10. What are Some Tips That You Have for Succeeding in This Position?

Asking an interviewer how you can do the best at your job shows your dedication as a nurse. It also lets you know what the general expectations are in the position that you are applying for. Showing your initiative and your commitment to patient care make you seem more qualified, and interviewers are more likely to remember you.


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

How Recognition Can Improve Healthcare Workplace Culture

The medical field can be stressful for multiple reasons. You work long hours, it is a high stress environment, and you are likely responsible for other people’s lives. Although personal changes may be needed in addition to workplace changes in order to be happy at work, recognition can improve the healthcare workplace culture by raising productivity and preventing burnout. Here are some ways to practice recognition effectively and some of its proven benefits. 

3 Tips for Using Recognition Effectively 

Workplace recognition is a great and extremely important element of a healthy and productive work environment. However, if not done properly a good thing can easily turn into a problem. Here are some tips for using workplace recognition effectively. 

1. Be Consistent 

In order for recognition to be effective, you need to be consistent with it. If you only acknowledge some good work performance it will likely cause frustration among staff. Therefore, it is best to just let a medical worker know when they are doing something right whenever you see it every day. You should apply this rule to constructive criticism as well. Following this rule will also help to ensure that all staff are being treated equally. 

2. Implement a Reward System 

Employee of the month is not a new idea, but in healthcare settings this might not always be present. Incorporating a reward system for nurses and other staff might be a good way to apply recognition and boost morale. It might also be the motivating push that a healthcare worker needs to succeed in the work environment. The same consistency and equality rules should be applied here in order for this method to be effective. However, this should not be the only form of recognition put in place. Here is an interesting study that found rewards to be a less motivating factor for nurses than many have believed previously. This does not mean that this recognition tactic should be removed all together, but that hospitals should combine this with other forms of recognition as well. 

3. Treat Everyone the Same

Equality is extremely important, but this is especially true when it comes to workplace recognition. Everyone should be treated the same no matter their gender, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation. The same is true for those with personal relationships outside of work. No one should be favored or punished for a personal relationship. Applying this rule is easy when also following the tip of consistency. 

5 Benefits of Recognition for Healthcare Workplace Culture

We know about how to apply recognition and constructive criticism productively, but what are some of the benefits to the healthcare workplace culture? The following are some reasons why every healthcare setting should recognize when their nurses, and also other staff, do a good job. 

1. Increased Productivity 

Having your hard work recognized tends to motivate people to do more. This is especially true for particularly stressful career fields like nursing. It is always nice to be reminded when you are doing something right, and when it comes to nursing you may need this motivating push to keep up the good work. Similarly, constructive criticisms can help to make improvements or correct mistakes. This tends to keep both productivity and motivation high while reducing mistakes. 

2. Reduces the Chances for Burnout 

Having a work environment that encourages recognition tends to make people feel more accomplished and good at what they do for a living. Therefore, hospitals and clinics that practice this usually see less cases of nurse burnout. This is good for both the nurses themselves and the medical center as a whole, because reduced staff turnover means less incidents due to lack of training. 

3. Improved Communication 

Applying frequent recognition and constructive criticism opens up productive communication among medical staff. This contributes to both improved patient outcomes and a better work environment. Communication is key in every healthcare setting, so opening up communication in this way will greatly improve the way that a hospital runs. 

4. Creates a Good Workplace Environment 

As mentioned before, having an environment that recognizes good work and achievement also improves overall morale in the workplace. Nursing can be a very stressful and demanding field, so a good work environment is an important factor when it comes to preventing nurse burnout. Everyone should genuinely like where they work, and those in the medical field are no different from anyone else. 

5. Improves Patient Outcome 

The previous benefits of recognition such as improved communication, reduced burnout, and improved productivity and motivation also improve patient outcomes. Less mistakes tend to be made in a productive work environment that applies constructive criticism and recognition, and in the medical field mistakes can be deadly. The patient is always the first concern for any healthcare professional, so this benefit alone is often motivation enough for medical work environments to incorporate recognition.


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

How Corporations are Supporting Nurses During the COVID 19 Pandemic

First responders, nurses, and other healthcare workers have endured a lot while saving lives during the COVID 19 pandemic. To help with supporting nurses and other frontline workers, companies around the US have been doing their part to get medical staff the food and resources they need to get through this crisis. Corporations from retailers to hotel chains have been either donating their goods and services or offering discounts to essential medical workers. Here are just a few of the many companies offering these services to nurses.

Providing Resources

supporting nurses with resources

Resources have been running low in many areas during this time of crisis. Companies like Mask Match and Print for the Cure have been supporting nurses by donating crucial masks and PPE to those on the front lines. Supplies like these are necessary for nurses to work safely. Similarly, Crocs, Headspace, and Care.com have been offering their memberships and products to help nurses as well. There are also many stores that have discounts for nursing students. 

Mask Match: The organization Mask Match has been providing masks to nurses and healthcare workers without the proper gear. All you need to do is complete the I Need Masks form to get yours. 

Print for the Cure: Similar to Mask Match, Print for the Cure helps medical staff get necessary PPE. You can enter a request here. 

Crocs: Crocs has been giving away 10,000 pairs of shoes to nurses daily. To get yours all you need to do is get in line at 12pm ET on the Crocs website

Care.com: Care.com is offering a month of free premium care through their services. This includes care providers for children, the elderly, and pets. 

Headspace: Headspace is a meditation app that promotes improving mental health. To make an effort to help nurses during this difficult time, headspace is offering access to their membership. 

Glowforge: Glowforge is a 3D printer company. They have been donating their product Ear Savers to healthcare workers that need to wear a mask. These Ear Savers have been designed to reduce pressure on the ears while wearing masks for extended periods of time. 

Curie: Curie is currently offering 20% off of their hand sanitizer to all essential workers. This includes healthcare workers, first responders, grocery clerks, etc.

Providing Food and Drinks 

supporting nurses with food and drink

Numerous restaurants, food delivery apps, and coffee shops have been supporting nurses by donating their products or providing discounts for their services. Here are just a few of the many promotions available to nurses and other healthcare workers. 

Starbucks: Starbucks is providing a free tall coffee (hot or iced) to those on the frontlines until May 31st. Make sure that your nearest Starbucks is open though. 

Pizza vs. Pandemic: Pizza vs. Pandemic has been providing pizzas for the medical staff at healthcare centers. All you need to do to have your medical center considered for donation is fill out a form on their website

Little Caesars Pizza: Little Caesars promises to donate one million pizzas to healthcare workers and first responders. Customers are even able to donate pizzas to their local medical centers through the Little Caesar app. 

DoorDash: DoorDash has been offering free 60 day corporate DashPass to all medical staff. They have also initiated free and reduced delivery costs. To see these promotions just download their app!

Thorntons: Thorntons gas stations have been handing out free 16oz coffees and 20oz fountain drinks to medical workers and first responders.

Panda Express: Panda express is offering a 10% discount to healthcare workers until the end of 2020. All you need to do is show your hospital badge!

Long John Silvers: “Wellness Wednesdays” is a new promotion launched by Long John Silvers where they promote a 20% discount to healthcare workers. 

Providing Travel and Housing 

supporting nurses with car and room

Finding transportation while volunteering in a new place can be stressful. During this time, transportation providers have been supporting nurses by offering free or discounted flights or rides to medical staff and volunteers. In addition, hotels and room booking sites have also been having promotional donations and discounts. 

Hilton Hotels: Hilton is providing 1 million free rooms to essential medical workers. This way they will have a safe place to quarantine themselves from their friends and families or stay while volunteering. This offer is available until May 31. 

Uber: Uber has been giving free rides to medical staff for transportation to both healthcare centers and house calls. They have also been providing free rides to patients with Uber Health. All you need to do to check this out is download their mobile app. 

Delta Airlines: Delta Airlines have been flying volunteers to and from their medical centers. The eligible locations are specific and vary, however. You can check the Delta Airlines website to see what destinations are included. 

JetBlue: JetBlue has been flying medical workers and needed resources to areas in need. For more information, you can visit the JetBlue website.

Greyhound: Greyhound is offering up to 2 free one way tickets to healthcare volunteers. This ends May 31. 

Lyft: Healthcare workers can get a free 30 minute Lyft Scooter ride. This is only available in Austin, Denver, LA, San Diego, Santa Monica, and the metro DC area. 

AAA: The roadside assistance company, AAA, is offering free breakdown, battery issue, and flat tire assistance for essential medical staff.


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

Why You Should Go for Your BSN

Some people think that going for a BSN over the ADN isn’t worth it due to the amount of time it takes to obtain and the cost of the program. Some may even hesitate just because of the prospect of going back to school. After all, it feels good to graduate! However, getting your BSN has numerous benefits in that it promotes both career and personal growth. Many employers even offer to finance and support this career development from an ADN if you agree to continue working for them. Here are four main reasons why you should take the initiative and work toward your BSN. 

Better Hiring Opportunities

You are more likely to get the job that you want if you have a BSN. Many employers will hire a nurse with a BSN before a nurse with an ADN, and some will require that you have a BSN to even apply. With a bachelor’s degree in nursing you simply have more hiring and career growth opportunities in a wider array of fields. For example, you are more likely to get a job in a hospital or private practice the more education you have. It is not uncommon for hospitals and clinics to have a quota of BSN nurses. Research shows that hospitals with more BSN nurses have better patient outcomes. This is why magnet hospitals have higher ratios of BSNs. So, having your BSN also helps when you apply for jobs at establishments with these requirements. 

As mentioned before, your employer may encourage you to get your BSN by offering to compensate you for it if you agree to continue to work for them. Although going for your BSN is a good idea even if your workplace does not offer this type of program, you should definitely go for it if they do. Furthering your education is always a great way to make life improvements, and having an employer offer to help with this is a great opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up. 

You Are More Prepared

Getting a BSN will diversify what you are prepared for in the nursing field. Some useful classes such as nursing ethics, nursing leadership, psychological nursing, pediatrics, and nursing research may not be offered in an ADN program. This will allow you to feel more comfortable in a larger variety of nursing positions, and it will make specializing your practice much easier. It also prepares you for a possible management position. 

The fact that having a BSN tends to make nurses more prepared for the job has been the driving force behind hospitals and clinics encouraging their employees to take this extra mile. Although the pros and cons about a nursing bachelors degree can be debated, having a BSN definitely looks better than an ADN on a nurse’s resume. 

It’s the First Step for Advanced Practice

Getting your BSN is often the first step when it comes to advancing your career. For example, maybe you’ve thought about becoming a nurse practitioner or opening your own practice. Well, in most education programs you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree before going for your masters or doctorate degree, and nursing is no different. Having a BSN may make furthering your nursing career seem less intimidating as well, which might be the motivating push that you need to further your education. Going for your BSN is a crucial stepping stone to further evolving and developing your career, even if you decide to stop your education after achieving your bachelor’s. 

The more education in nursing that you have, the more prestigious nursing jobs will be available to you. You will also be more likely to be eligible for management nursing positions or jobs with greater leadership roles. Those with BSNs usually make more money on average than nurses with ADNs as well, and they tend to be given more opportunities to grow and experience new things. 

Leadership Roles

You often need to have more than an associate’s degree to hold any kind of leadership position. Unfortunately, you most often need more than even a BSN to be in a management job. It may be possible depending on your location though, and, as stated before, getting your BSN is a great motivator and starting point for expanding your career. 

If you desire to hold management and leadership roles at work, then you will be more likely to accomplish this goal with more education. Luckily, there are many bridge education programs from ADN or LPN to BSN or even MSN available. Many healthcare facilities will promote these, and even make offers to convince nurses to join them.


A BSN has many benefits over an ADN. These mainly include increased hireability, more diverse career opportunities, and more chances to fill leadership or management roles. It also has the added benefit of being a starting point for higher education by being a major motivator for evolving your career even further. Therefore going for your BSN is definitely worth your while, especially if your employer is offering to assist with the costs of education and are understanding about you taking the time to take classes. 


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

4 Ways Nurses Make Human Connection During COVID-19

Right now face masks and social distancing are essential for nurses, but that makes human connection during COVID-19 more difficult. Many nurses have recently gotten creative while working through this challenge and have come up with various ways to make personal connections with their patients. In addition, these tactics can also help maintain the patients’ relationships with friends and family.

Here are 4 ways nurses are making human connections during the COVID-19.

1) Facetime With Friends and Family 

Nurses in Indianapolis have specifically been encouraging their patients to video chat with their loved ones during this challenging time. Everyone can benefit from seeing their close friends and family. This is true even when you are unable to speak due to a ventilator. This is especially true during any difficult situation such as a life threatening disease or injury. Acknowledging this fact, many nurses around the country are helping their patients use video call platforms like Facetime, Zoom, and Skype to boost morale and emotional well being. 

There are numerous benefits to keeping patients in contact with those close to them. This outlet has proven to reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, improving mood also tends to increase motivation. All of these positive consequences tend to provide patients with a swift recovery, which is the main goal during any hospital stay. No one wants to be alone during a scary time, and luckily due to modern technology, there is this new way to see and connect loved ones during social distancing.  

2) Taping Pictures of Their Faces on Clothes 

The necessary full face and body protective gear that medical staff working with COVID 19 patients must wear have created unforeseen problems. Face masks, though protective and mandatory, also hide medical workers’ faces. This unfortunately often makes those with the novel coronavirus feel isolated. To help with this complication, nurses around the United States have been taping full faced photos of themselves onto their uniforms. 

Even just showing patients a picture of their smile can make the treatment experience feel less lonely and unwelcoming. It’s a way nurses (and others) make human connection during COVID-19 protocols. Creating a more personal and friendly atmosphere can make this emotional and difficult treatment a little easier for COVID 19 patients, which is the least that we can do for those in coronavirus treatment and recovery. 

3) Arranging Window Visits With Loved Ones

Many friends and families have arranged window visits with their hospitalized loved ones by having nurses bring patients to a window where they will be waiting across the street. Oftentimes, they will also be carrying signs with words of comfort and optimism. This, like many of the other outlets for forming and maintaining personal connections, has greatly improved the morale and motivation of patients with COVID 19. 

Although video chatting also allows for friends and families of coronavirus patients to communicate, physically being close can be very meaningful on both sides of the window. In addition, employing multiple outlets of communication and distanced human contact can be even more effective than only using one during this time. It is always nice to know that those close to you are there to support you during tough times, even if it needs to be from across the street. 

4) Speaking to Patients, Even When They’re on Ventilators 

Patients are sedated and unresponsive on ventilators. Still, nurses want to care for them just in case they have some awareness. This is why some nurses have been making an effort to talk to patients on ventilators even when they are unresponsive. In addition to scheduling video calls and window visits with patients’ loved ones, words of encouragement given from the medical staff themselves are meant to lift a patient’s spirit in an extremely trying time. It’s amazing that during COVID-19, nurses remember that even sedated patients still deserve human connection just like anyone else. It’s a great example of nurses’ capacity for empathy.

Although providing words of encouragement and sympathy can benefit any patient, this is especially helpful for patients that cannot visit with their families and friends. Even with outlets like video calls and window visits, treatment of the novel coronavirus can still feel isolating. Forming close personal connections with the medical staff can help make this recovery process feel less lonely, even when on a ventilator.


The work that nurses have been doing during this time to make patients feel comfortable during their hospital stays throughout the COVID 19 pandemic is amazing. A main way this is happening is by nurses finding ways to make human connection during COVID-19. Providing outlets for friends and families to keep in contact with their sick loved ones and encouraging and sympathizing with their patients themselves has done wonders in making some positives during this trying and tragic pandemic. The fact that all COVID 19 patients are people deserving of human contact and empathy can not be stressed enough, and medical staff across the country have made important steps to maintain this element of their patients’ human social and emotional needs.


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

Why You Should Consider Becoming a Midwife

Becoming a midwife is perfect for those who are ambitious and have a passion for Women’s Health. You will need to be able to handle childbirth though. If you’re not squeamish; however, midwifery is an extremely rewarding career. Here are three reasons why you should consider becoming a midwife. 

You Have Long Term Patients  

Midwives often provide care throughout a pregnancy before aiding in the birth. This allows for them to really get to know their patients and establish trust. This is a great option if forming this relationship with patients is important to you. You may also see patients more than once if they have more children later on. 

Your Job Location May Vary  

As a midwife you get the option to work at a hospital or do house calls. This is great if you feel as if you need a variety of locations at work. However, if you prefer working in one place that’s ok too. Many midwives choose to only work at a hospital. 

You are Considered an Expert in a Field 

Midwives are considered to be experts in their field, and, because of this, they tend to be their own bosses. For some, this is an ideal work situation. If you feel comfortable making your own decisions in potentially stressful situations, then being a midwife may be the perfect fit for you.  


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

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Tips to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance as a Nurse

Working too much or too little can have some serious consequences on your life. Working too little slows the establishment of your career and makes less money. Meanwhile, working too much causes stress and tends to make people burn out pretty quickly. Here are some tips to help create a healthy balance between work and home life. 

Stay Healthy

When you work in a demanding job it is crucial to remember to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. In addition, it may be important for you to have some time to yourself. This can be achieved through starting a hobby and exercising. 

Make Family Time a Priority

It is important to spend time with your family, especially if you have kids. Making family time a priority whenever you have time off from work will likely make both you and your family feel better. It is important to spend time with your significant other if you have one as well. Simply setting time away to spend time with them can make a huge improvement on a relationship. The feeling of missing that quality time whenever you are away will likely begin to diminish. 

Say No

Although saying no isn’t always an option in a career like nursing, there will always be some instances where you have a choice. It is important to refuse doing nonessential work activities if you do not want to do them, even if you may feel pressured to go along with it. Setting up these clear barriers will help to create a healthy balance between your work and personal lives. 


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

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Why You Should Consider Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Have you been thinking about going back to nursing school lately? Being a RN is great, but you do not need to stop there if you don’t want to. Here are three reasons why you should consider becoming a nurse practitioner. 

Personal Growth  

Graduating from nurse practitioner school is a huge accomplishment. There are not many people who go for a doctorate, let alone a doctorate in nursing. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s hard work that definitely pays off. With a lack of nurse practitioners in the United States, chances are you will be able to get your dream job in your studied specialty. Not to mention, you also get paid a lot more.

More Responsibility  

Nurse practitioners can do many of the same things that those with traditional medical degrees can do. (besides surgery of course) However, this adds a lot of responsibility. As a nurse practitioner you are able to make an official diagnosis and prescribe medication. If this idea is exciting to you, then becoming a nurse practitioner might be your right career development. 

You Can open Your Own Private Practice 

Opening a private practice comes with a lot of benefits. Through running your own clinic you have the opportunity to make choices on your staff, equipment, and salary. You also get to make your own hours. If you don’t like the idea of working on the weekends, then you don’t have to. In addition to all of this, you get the chance to create the work environment that you want. Maybe a more laid back atmosphere with a close knit team is what the doctor ordered.  


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

If you liked this article, send our weekly summary newsletter to your inbox! To subscribe, type your email in the box below. We promise no spam and no selling your contact info.

Part 7 of EI and Nursing – Sympathy vs Empathy

            Welcome back to the Fabiah Blog series, EI and Nursing! This time we cover sympathy vs empathy as well as compassion. Next time, in our final article of the series, we will see one more surprising way that EI helps nurses.

            What if, by saying something nice, we made a patient feel worse? What if phrases like “It’s alright,” and “You won’t even miss your hair,” and “You’re just the strongest person,” were exactly what they did not want to hear?

            That’s exactly what a 2017 study found. Shane Sinclair and Kate
Beamer asked palliative cancer patients about the responses people had to their suffering. The patients described one category of response that was unhelpful, unwanted, and even made them feel worse. And those “nice” phrases mentioned above fall right into that undesirable kind of response. If these are unwanted responses, then why do we say them? And, what should we say instead? As we delve into these questions, recall what we’ve learned about Emotional Intelligence (EI) and empathetic listening. Both will help us make sense of the results of this study.

            Sinclair and Beamer found patients making a distinction between responses that expressed sympathy vs empathy

            Of sympathy, one patient said, “Sympathy is very easy, it’s an emotion, probably one of the easiest emotions to fake. I hate sympathy!”

            According to patients sympathy is:

  • Distant
  • Selfish
  • Unhelpful

            From the patients’ point of view, a sympathetic response was a distancing response. By expressing sympathy, a person kept the patient’s suffering at arm’s length.
Sympathetic responses often included mitigation of suffering – “It’s not so bad.” – or shifting focus – “You should think about the good things.” Patients noticed people used this distance for self-protection. By rebuffing difficult feelings like grief and fear, sympathy protected people from coming too close to the patients’ suffering, but left patients feeling alone and discouraged.

            Empathy was given an almost opposite profile. Patients described empathy as being:

  • Connected
  • Selfless

            Empathetic responses were marked by the attempt to connect with a patient’s suffering. Rather than protect themselves with quick and shallow responses, people who expressed empathy adjusted their attitudes and emotions to be more aligned with the patient. The patient’s emotion was given priority.

            Of empathy, one patient reported, “Empathy enters into another’s suffering … it’s just the ability to be there.”

            Connections to the sympathy/empathy distinction have appeared throughout the EI and Nursing series. For example, we saw that empathetic listening is the effort to understand and connect with another person, which is exactly what distinguishes empathy from sympathy. Or consider Emotional Intelligence, by which we correctly identify and effectively manage emotion; Sinclair and Beamer found that a person’s inability to process a patient’s suffering is what leads them to express sympathy instead of empathy. We could say that sympathy is stuck in the attention phase of EI, where we have a general awareness that something is wrong, we feel distress, but can’t get any further. Without moving on to the clarity and repair phases of EI, we’re left with the knee-jerk reaction of sympathy.

            Above we gave sympathy three markers and empathy only two. Why didn’t we describe empathy as helpful the way we described sympathy as unhelpful?
Because patients in Sinclair and Beamer’s study used a third word to describe a response that both connected with their suffering and looked for some way to help. The word they used was compassion. Whereas empathy might listen and connect but do nothing further, compassion wants to find something to do to alleviate patients’ suffering. 

            So, now we can say why those nice sounding phrases can make a patient feel worse. In sympathetic responses, patients sense a desire to disconnect, which leaves them alone with their suffering. So why do we sometimes express sympathy instead of empathy? Because sympathy protects us, because we’re thinking of ourselves. It’s the same barrier we covered last time, standing in the way of empathetic listening. On the positive side, the three strategies we covered in the previous article apply here as well. In place of sympathy we can ask questions that lead to connection, like “What are you feeling?” We can reflect: “You seem frustrated with your options.” And, we can help: “Is there some way I can make things better for you?”

            If we put into practice all we’ve learned in this series, we should find ourselves moving more and more from sympathy to empathy and, lastly, into compassionate care.

            We hope you enjoyed this discussion of sympathy vs empathy. Be sure not to miss our next article! Type your email in the box below to receive the next article as part of Fabiah Blog’s weekly newsletter.


Fabiah Blog is supported by Fabiah.com, where you can purchase affordable, comprehensive malpractice insurance for nurses and healthcare professionals. If you are not already insured, you are uncertain about purchasing a personal policy, or would simply like to learn more about personal medical malpractice insurance, then please read this article.

Stores that offer Discounts to Nurses and Nursing Students

Whether you’re a registered nurse or nursing student, there are stores that offer you discounts. Here are some of them:

Here are some of them:

  • Allheart: Allheart offers reduced pricing on orders of nursing uniforms, medical scrubs, and other accessories.
  • Atera Spas: Atera Spas offer nurses and other medical personnel special discounts.
  • Discount Medical Supplies: Nurses can get free shipping on orders more than $100 from Discount Medical Supplies.
  • Turf Valley: Turf Valley offers up to 15% discount every Monday on spa service for registered nurses.
  • Avista Resort: Avista Resort in North Myrtle Beach offers discounted rates to nurses.
  • Cheeca Lodge & Spa: The Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Florida offers a 10% room discount to nurses after booking reservations online.