The impact of nurses' empathic responses on patients' pain management in acute care

Nurs Res. Jul-Aug 2000;49(4):191-200. doi: 10.1097/00006199-200007000-00002.


Background: Although nurses have the major responsibility for pain management, little is known about nurses' responses to patients in the process of managing acute pain.

Objective: To examine the relationship between nurses' empathic responses and their patients' pain intensity and analgesic administration after surgery.

Methods: Two hundred twenty-five patients from four cardiovascular units in three university-affiliated hospitals were interviewed on the third day after their initial, uncomplicated coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery about their pain and current pain management. Concurrently, their nurses' (n = 94) empathy and pain knowledge and beliefs were assessed. Patient data were aggregated and linked with the assigned nurse to form 80 nurse-patient pairs.

Results: Nurses were moderately empathic, and their responses did not significantly influence their patients' pain intensity or analgesia administered. Patients reported moderate to severe pain but received only 47% of their prescribed analgesia. Patients' perceptions of their nurse's attention to their pain were not positive, and empathy explained only 3% of variance in patients' pain intensity. Deficits in knowledge and misbeliefs about pain management were evident for nurses independent of empathy, and knowledge explained 7% of variance in analgesia administered. Hospital sites varied significantly in analgesic practices and pain inservice education for nurses.

Conclusions: Empathy was not associated with patients' pain intensity or analgesic administration.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Coronary Artery Bypass
  • Educational Status
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Nursing Research
  • Ontario
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / psychology*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Analgesics