Emotional labour and compassionate care: What's the relationship?

Gladys Msiska, Pamela Smith, Tonks Fawcett, Betty Mkwinda Nyasulu, Tonks Fawcett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Malawi is one of the countries in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa severely affected by the HIV pandemic. This being the case, student nurses' clinical encounters include caring for patients with HIV and AIDS.

OBJECTIVES: The study explored the clinical learning experience of undergraduate nursing students in Malawi, with the aim of understanding the nature of their experience.

DESIGN: This was a hermeneutic phenomenological study.

SETTING: The study took place at a university nursing college in Malawi.

PARTICIPANTS: Thirty undergraduate nursing students were purposively selected.

METHODS: Conversational interviews were conducted and a framework developed by modifying Colaizzi's procedural steps guided the phenomenological analysis.

RESULTS: The participants reported their experience during the early years of their studies and their current experience at the time of the study, depicting them as novice and senior students respectively. The study findings demonstrated an overt fear of contracting HIV infection among novice nursing students. Such fear led students to deliberately avoid taking care of HIV positive patients and develop a sense of legitimate emotional detachment. However, as students progressed in their studies, and their knowledge and experiences increased, they realised that HIV and AIDS patients needed support and empathy. The learning trajectory demonstrate a gradual change from emotional detachment based on fear to a sense of emotional engagement built on knowledge, experiential insights and the notion of emotions management that led to the provision of care driven by compassion as opposed to anxiety.

CONCLUSION: The findings illustrate that nursing students need to work on their emotions to provide compassionate care. This is consistent with the concept of emotional labour and the paper argues that undertaking emotional labour is essential in promoting compassionate care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1246-1252
Number of pages7
JournalNurse Education Today
Issue number9
Early online date18 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014


  • clinical learning experience
  • HIV care
  • compassionate care
  • emotional labour
  • hermeneutic phenomenology research


Dive into the research topics of 'Emotional labour and compassionate care: What's the relationship?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this