The idealization of 'compassion' in trainee nurses' talk: a psychosocial focus group study

Dashtipour, Parisa ORCID logoORCID:, Frost, Nollaig and Traynor, Michael ORCID logoORCID: (2021) The idealization of 'compassion' in trainee nurses' talk: a psychosocial focus group study. Human Relations, 74 (12) . pp. 2102-2125. ISSN 0018-7267 [Article] (doi:10.1177/0018726720952150)

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Why do nurses in training continue to draw on the ideal of compassion when responding to their experiences of nursing work in the UK National Health Service (NHS), despite the difficulties that they face in developing compassionate, long-term relationships with patients in practice? To answer this question, we draw from a psychosocial analysis of focus groups data from 49 trainee nurses in the NHS. First, we show how the manifestation of this ideal in trainee nurses’ discourse leads them to blame qualified nurses for failures in patient care. We suggest this is an unconscious defence against the anxiety evoked both by the vulnerability of their position as those who need to gain access to the profession, and of being unable to conduct compassionate nursing work. Second, we emphasise that less powerful occupational groups, such as trainee nurses, may adopt defences that underpin dominant organizational policy, such as idealization, despite further disadvantaging their group and benefitting those in power. We conclude by questioning the particular emphasis on compassion in nurses’ training, which can prevent occupational solidarity and the ability to reflect on the structural and organizational factors required to conduct patient-centred nursing work.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): Bion, compassion, focus group discourse, idealization, Klein, NHS, nurses, psychosocial studies, systems psychodynamics
Research Areas: A. > Business School
A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations
A. > School of Health and Education
A. > School of Health and Education > Institute of Nursing and Midwifery
Item ID: 30642
Notes on copyright: © The Author(s) 2020.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
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Depositing User: Parisa Dashtipour
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2020 08:11
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 17:39

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