As healthcare professionals, we are taught how to deal with the medical, surgical, and immunological aspects of organ donation and transplantation. But we are rarely taught and often not prepared to deal with the unique emotional, social, and spiritual needs of potential donor families. However, as donation professionals, we have a responsibility of ensuring compassionate care during the painful journeys of these families and how to successfully companion them.

I recently read an article entitled “How to be Compassionate” by Rasmus Houggaard (a meditation and mindfulness expert who has studied with the Dali Lama and current CEO of Potential Project, which helps organizations to build more human and compassionate workplaces). Houggard and his colleagues looked at what compassion looks like in action and what skills one needs to develop it. They identified four skills as paramount: Presence, Courage, Candor, and Transparency. 

Following is an excerpt provided by the app “Ten Percent Happier” that summarizes these four skills.

Caring Presence: Be Here Now

When we are present, we are in the moment and giving the people around us our full attention.  Unfortunately this is not our default state.  We are wired to be distracted. Mindfulness allows us to be present with others to tie in to what they are experiencing and may not be saying.  This helps us to remember that the person in front of us deserves our respect, attention, care and curiosity.

Caring Courage: Courage over Comfort

Once we are present, we can choose courage over comfort.  As human beings we are hardwired to embrace certainty and safety to avoid danger and discomfort.  Compassion requires us to open up to others.  It takes courage to tap into the difficult feelings we and they may be feeling.  We find the inner strength to overcome being outside our comfort zone and open ourselves to emotions – ours and others to allow a connection to begin

Caring Candor: Direct is Faster

Having checked in with yourself and the other person the third step is caring candor.  This means being direct and straightforward which is the fastest way to engage in a conversation.  Caring candor allows you to deliver the message in the most kind and direct way which allows the other person to receive it quickly and for the real conversation to begin.  It means being direct and decisive while remaining authentically open to other people’s perspectives and demonstrating care for their emotions and well being.

Caring Transparency:  Clarity is Kindness

Caring transparency means getting ideas and thoughts out into the open; to make the invisible visible. When you are transparent, people know what is on your mind.  When we start the journey towards greater compassion, we are present in our interactions with others and  have the courage to show up with candor and transparency.  When we present ourselves in this way it allows others to do the same.

Image Courtesy of “Ten Percent Happier”

Supporting and accompanying our donor families during the raw and tender time of donation is one of the most important responsibilities of the donation professional. From personal experience, it is also one of the deepest privileges.

Pamela Albert RN, BSN, CPTC began her career in donation and transplantation over 30 years ago and has had the opportunity to participate in many aspects of the process since then. At New England Donor Services, Pam has worked as a donation and hospital development coordinator, educational specialist, donor family liaison, aftercare coordinator, Director of Tissue Operations and Donor Family Services.  She is currently serving as the Senior Director of  Tissue Donor Services Resource Development and is responsible for ongoing authorization training for tissue operations staff as well as coaching and mentoring new leaders in the organization.

Pam has lectured across the country on topics relating to contact between donor families and recipients, as well as grief and loss issues in the workplace. Pam is published in both Progress in Transplantation and Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America and received The National MTF Donor Family Care Award in 2000 for her work with donor families.

Stay Up to Date