May 18, 2020
Caring with Empathy during a Pandemic


The world is facing an unprecedented time. As COVID-19 evolves, it may seem like how we are supposed to respond to the virus changes by the hour.


Health care providers are picking up on stress and fear from patients. This may show up as anger and frustration or noncompliance. You may also find that you’re having disagreements with coworkers due to long hours and changing procedures.


Patients with chronic conditions are at greater risk for COVID-19 because they have weakened immune systems. Those with end-stage kidney disease rely on life-sustaining dialysis to stay healthy and cannot stop their treatment.


Caring with empathy extends to your patients, your coworkers and yourself. Here are some strategies to promote harmony, self-care and collaboration during challenging times.


Caring for Patients


Some patients may be afraid of catching the virus from others and stop going to their dialysis center for treatment. Think about how you can respond to that type of behavior with empathy. Consider:


  1. “It’s OK…” “It’s OK that you feel scared about going to the dialysis center where other patients might be carrying the virus. However, know that we are going above and beyond CDC guidelines to protect you and them.”
  2. “I can see why…” “I can see why you might be afraid to come here. It’s natural to feel uncertain, but you need to keep getting dialysis. We are following and even going beyond what the CDC recommends to protect everyone.”


Another way to show empathy and respect is to practice the following four-part answer. For example, patients who are frustrated about changing procedures may refuse to wear a mask while receiving treatment. Try this approach in response to that behavior:


  1. Validate the emotion(s). “This is a big change for all of us. It’s OK to feel frustrated.”
  2. Talk with the patient like a peer. “Wearing a mask all the time has been uncomfortable for me, too. Here are a few things I’ve done to make it feel better…”
  3. Explain why it is important. “For your safety and for the safety of everyone else at the center, you need to wear a mask. Let me show you the proper way to wear one.”
  4. Make it personal. Example: “I have a 4-year-old daughter at home. When I wear my mask, I’m protecting you, myself and my family. I promise to wear my mask to keep you safe. Can you do me a favor and wear yours to keep me and my daughter safe?” Then, if they agree, express gratitude.


Caring for Ourselves


If we don’t focus on our own wellness, we may have little or nothing left to give others. Now, more than ever, we need to eat right, exercise and get enough rest. Take breaks to recharge and find time for yourself.


Caring for each Other


None of us can do our jobs alone. Make sure your coworkers know that you care about and value them. Ways to show empathy to your team may include:


  • Doing a check-in a couple of times a week to see how everyone is coping
  • Leading them in—or ask a social worker to lead—a guided meditation or breathing exercise
  • Sharing a joke or a lighthearted story
  • Checking to see that they are taking breaks and practicing good self-care
  • Realizing that they may have their own personal difficulties related to this pandemic and being sensitive to their needs


One day this pandemic will all be over, and we will get to the other side – together. For emotional health-related COVID-19 resources, visit