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What are healthcare providers’ understandings and experiences of compassion? The healthcare compassion model: a grounded theory study of healthcare providers in Canada
  1. Shane Sinclair1,2,
  2. Thomas F Hack3,4,5,
  3. Shelley Raffin-Bouchal1,
  4. Susan McClement3,4,
  5. Kelli Stajduhar6,
  6. Pavneet Singh1,
  7. Neil A Hagen2,7,
  8. Aynharan Sinnarajah2,8,
  9. Harvey Max Chochinov3,9
  1. 1 Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  3. 3 Research Institute in Oncology and Hematology, CancerCare Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  4. 4 College of Nursing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  5. 5 Psychosocial Oncology and Cancer Nursing Research, St. Boniface Research Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  6. 6 School of Nursing and Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
  7. 7 Departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  8. 8 Palliative/End of Life Care, Calgary Zone, Alberta Health Services, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  9. 9 Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shane Sinclair; sinclair{at}


Background Healthcare providers are considered the primary conduit of compassion in healthcare. Although most healthcare providers desire to provide compassion, and patients and families expect to receive it, an evidence-based understanding of the construct and its associated dimensions from the perspective of healthcare providers is needed.

Objectives The aim of this study was to investigate healthcare providers’ perspectives and experiences of compassion in order to generate an empirically derived, clinically informed model.

Design Data were collected via focus groups with frontline healthcare providers and interviews with peer-nominated exemplary compassionate healthcare providers. Data were independently and collectively analysed by the research team in accordance with Straussian grounded theory.

Setting and participants 57 healthcare providers were recruited from urban and rural palliative care services spanning hospice, home care, hospital-based consult teams, and a dedicated inpatient unit within Alberta, Canada.

Results Five categories and 13 associated themes were identified, illustrated in the Healthcare Provider Compassion Model depicting the dimensions of compassion and their relationship to one another. Compassion was conceptualised as—a virtuous and intentional response to know a person, to discern their needs and ameliorate their suffering through relational understanding and action.

Conclusions An empirical foundation of healthcare providers’ perspectives on providing compassionate care was generated. While the dimensions of the Healthcare Provider Compassion Model were congruent with the previously developed Patient Model, further insight into compassion is now evident. The Healthcare Provider Compassion Model provides a model to guide clinical practice and research focused on developing interventions, measures and resources to improve it.

  • compassion
  • compassionate care
  • grounded theory
  • healthcare providers
  • model
  • qualitative research

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors SS, SRB, TFH, SM, KS, AS, NAH and HMC conceptualised the study. SS supervised PS who managed, acquired, cleaned and coordinated the analysis of data. SS, SRB, TFH, SM, KS and PS analysed the interview and focus group data. All authors contributed to the final draft and approved the final version for publication.

  • Funding This study was supported by an MSI Foundation Grant (grant number 880).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Conjoint Health Research Ethics Board, University of Calgary (REB 15-1999).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

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