Having the “Headspace” for Compassion Toward Self and Others: A Qualitative Study of Medical Students’ Views and Experiences
© 2018, © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Phenomenon: Debate about compassion exhibited by healthcare professionals has escalated, following a perceived decline over recent years. At the same time, a growing interest in self-compassion has emerged, which is seen as facilitating compassion toward others. Little research has explored, in depth, what compassion to self and others means to medical students. Therefore, a study was designed to address this gap in knowledge. Approach: A qualitative study was conducted, involving students from all 4 years of a graduate-entry medical school in the United Kingdom. Focus groups were used to obtain the views of students on compassion for self and others (patients). Care was taken to achieve variation within the sample in terms of age, gender, and year of study. Focus groups were completed between September and October 2016. An inductive thematic analysis was performed. Findings: A total of 31 students participated in 4 focus groups, each lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Having the cognitive freedom—“headspace”—to be aware of and respond to one's own and others’ difficulties and distress was identified as an overarching theme within the data. This was underpinned by the themes developed during analysis: (a) bringing humanity into the workplace; (b) compassion as a variable, innate resource; (c) zoning into an individual's current needs; and (d) collective compassion. Students talked about the importance of being adaptable and responsive to situational factors in relation to self-compassion and compassionate care. They also highlighted the contribution of role models in promoting compassion to self and others. Insights: It is important for medical educators to explore ways of enhancing students’ compassion to self and others during their training and beyond. Integrating approaches to “well-being” into the curriculum can create opportunities for self-compassion development, but rigid protocols could derail these efforts.