The Inaugural University of Plymouth Compassion in Healthcare Education Conference
  • Online delivery

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This virtual event has been organised to promote the idea of compassion as an educational reality that both can and should be taught to healthcare students.

Organised by Dr Sarah Tobin who has completed and will present a doctoral research study aimed at defining compassion in the healthcare context and how compassionate behaviours and practice can be achieved. Compassion can perhaps be perceived as an optional element of healthcare education yet unarguably as an essential component of humane but also efficient healthcare provision. This conference aims to look at how this disconnect might be addressed and also at ways in which the recent increase in research and interest in compassionate practice education could be both disseminated but also consolidated for greater impact.

Confirmed keynote speakers include:

  • Professor Michael West, The Kings Fund and Lancaster University
  • Professor Jeff Nisker of Western University in Ontario
  • Dr Sarah Tobin, University of Plymouth
  • Nick Peres, University of Plymouth and South Devon NHS Trust
  • Margaret Fisher, Associate Professor in Health Studies, University of Plymouth
  • Dr Collette Straughair, Northumbria University.

Please see the above programme for the content of this diverse and fascinating exploration of compassion as presented from a range of perspectives to include ethics, the humanities, technology, behavioural, cultural and personal views - all in relation to healthcare and especially healthcare education. The conference will conclude with the experience of a service user who will remind us all of what this day is really all about. 

During the lunch break there will be a separate meeting for those who may be interested in setting up a foundation to promote and continue the concept of compassion in healthcare education.

We look forward to ‘seeing’ you at this virtual event that we hope will become firmly established as a regular forum to help promote this vital subject.

Please book early via the above link to avoid disappointment.


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Speaker biographies

MICHAEL WEST CBE joined The King's Fund as a Senior Fellow in 2013. He is Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Lancaster University, Visiting Professor at University College, Dublin, and Emeritus Professor at Aston University, where he was formerly Executive Dean of Aston Business School.

He graduated from the University of Wales in 1973 and received his PhD in 1977. He has authored, edited and co-edited 20 books and has published more than 200 articles in scientific and practitioner publications on teamwork, leadership and culture, particularly in healthcare. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, the American Psychological Association (APA), the APA Society for Industrial/Organisational Psychology, the Academy of Social Sciences, the International Association of Applied Psychologists and the British Academy of Management.

He led the English Department of Health Policy Research Programme into cultures of quality and safety. He also led the NHS National Staff Survey development and initial implementation. He assisted in developing the national framework on improvement and leadership development in England (Developing People, Improving Care - 2016) and in Northern Ireland in developing the Collective Leadership Strategy for Health and Social Care (2017). He is supporting Health Education and Improvement Wales to develop the national health and care leadership strategy in Wales. He co-chaired with Dame Denise Coia, the two-year inquiry on behalf of the UK General Medical Council into the mental health and wellbeing of doctors Caring for Doctors, Caring for Patients (2019). He led the review for The King’s Fund (commissioned by the RCN Foundation) into the mental health and well-being of nurses and midwives across the UK, The Courage of Compassion: Supporting Nurses and Midwives to Deliver High Quality Care (2020). 

He was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020.

PROFESSOR JEFF NISKER - Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Western University Scientist - Maternal, Foetal and Newborn Health, Children’s Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada.

Jeff is a clinician, researcher, university professor, and writer. His plays and short stories bring health professionals, students, the general public and policy makers to the position of persons immersed in the social inequities of new scientific capacities. Jeff has received many research grants in the basic, clinical and social sciences from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Genome Canada, and other institutions to study prevention of oestrogen-related cancer, ethical and social issues in reproductive-genetics, and the lack of accommodation persons with disability receive for health promotion. Jeff has also co-held a CIHR/Health Canada grant to research public engagement and citizen deliberation through his innovative use of full-length theatre for health policy development. Jeff has authored or co- authored over 170 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters, many short stories, and seven plays published in the collection From Calcedonies to Orchids: Plays Promoting Humanity and Health Policy. His plays have been performed throughout Canada, in the United States, the UK, Australia and South Africa. Jeff’s new book, the novel Patiently Waiting For, centres on the denial of accommodation of a woman with quadriplegia and the resulting physical and social consequences.

Jeff will be reading from some of his works, Beneath the BMW wheels (CMAJ 2020; 192 (28): E815-E816), Ruth based on the play Calcedonies and She lived with the knowledge (Ars Medica, 2004 1(1): 75-80). "I cannot recommend enough his writing and encourage any conference attendee to seek these out to augment and deepen your engagement with this presentation." (Sarah Tobin)

COLLETTE STRAUGHAIR is a Registered Nurse and Registered Midwife who joined Northumbria University in September 2005 as a Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing. Since joining the university, she has developed a research interest in the concept of compassion in nursing and has recently completed doctoral research to investigate this phenomenon. She has delivered conference presentations and published on this subject and plans to continue investigating this area of interest through post-doctoral research activity. She is Programme Leader to a cohort of adult nursing students and Personal Tutor to a smaller group of personal students. She is involved in the delivery of teaching across all years of the undergraduate nursing programme and student assessment at levels 4, 5, 6 and 7. 

Collette commenced her Registered Nurse training in January 1987 and undertook one of the very first programmes in the North East region to qualify with Registered Nurse status and a Diploma in Nursing Sciences, awarded by Newcastle Polytechnic. Following qualification, she worked in various Staff Nurse positions in the specialties of medicine and elderly care. In 1999 she commenced an 18-month programme to achieve Registered Midwife status and graduated with a first class honours degree, subsequently working in Hartlepool and North Tees NHS Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS trust as a Staff Midwife across all areas of midwifery practice in primary and secondary care. She went on to work as a Healthcare Assistant Development Nurse and implemented an educational programme for Healthcare Assistants in the Sunderland area before moving to South Tyneside to take up a role as a Practice Development Nurse in the medicine and elderly care directorate. Since September 2005, Collette has worked at Northumbria University as a Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing and has recently completed her PhD entitled: “Understanding compassion: A constructivist grounded theory study to explore the perceptions of individuals who have experienced nursing care”.


DR SARAH TOBIN qualified as Registered General Nurse in 1990 (at a very young age) and then as Registered Mental Nurse in 1992. She has worked in a number of different clinical roles including elderly care, emergency care, oncology, gastroenterology and cancer screening. Returning to a very different healthcare environment after a career break it became evident that further education was becoming increasingly recognised as a requirement to improve nurse development and subsequent patient care. A diploma and a degree followed, running alongside her clinical work as a Nurse Specialist, a Lead Nurse and as a Matron within the NHS. During her subsequent MSc degree, a failing in kindness and the devastating impact on a patient led her to complete her studies with research to try to understand if ‘compassion’ was important to those who provide care and if so, whether it could be taught. The bit firmly between her teeth, she built on the findings from this work and in 2012 commenced a PhD to try to establish a definition of compassion in healthcare.

Moving to the University of Plymouth in 2013, initially as a Lecturer Practitioner and then as a full-time Lecturer, Sarah completed her PhD earlier this year. Ever more convinced that compassion is a vital component of not simply humane healthcare but of sustainable, effective and efficient care, she aims to try and establish understanding of this ‘skill’ as an important element of healthcare education.

DAN SANSOM and his brother Ben were raised by wonderful parents – in 2012 his mother, Phil, suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. Working as a teacher for children with special needs and living alone since the untimely death of her husband Norm, Phil had been fit and well prior to this event. The loss of a parent is heart breaking – happening without warning added to the grief and distress that they felt. It was the role of the transplant team, in this case the Nurse Specialist, to approach Dan and Ben in the ICU where Phil was being cared for, to ask if they would consent to organ donation. With no clinical options left that could help them as a family, the skills that the healthcare team needed and used were those of kindness and compassion.

As a teacher who specialised in supporting some of the most challenging of students, Dan has an appreciation of the importance of communication, understanding, support and belonging. Yet, nothing can prepare anyone for the situation that Dan and Ben found themselves in – we are grateful and privileged that he has agreed to share his experience at this conference. It really is what the day is all about after all.

NICK PERES is the Head of Digital Technologies at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and currently leads on multiple emerging technology initiatives within the NHS including The Immersive Lab that is sponsored nationally by Health Education England. In this work, immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) are explored as a way to support staff education and patient wellbeing. Nick is also founder of PatientVR, a project set up to ‘virtually’ put clinicians in the patients’ shoes for reflective, humanistic skills learning and for understanding the important role of compassion in education. 

Nick is completing his PhD in technological mediation and compassion in medical simulated training at the University of Plymouth and is a contributing researcher and advisor in Transtechnology Research, a transdisciplinary research group situated in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business. Nick’s background prior to healthcare was working in broadcast media as a cameraman, which continues to influence his work, advocating a ‘clinicians as content creators’ approach to creativity in healthcare, believing creative ownership, collaboration and access is key to the adoption of new technologies. 

Nick has frequently spoken and advised at national level (and is a TEDx speaker) on the use and potential of immersive technologies within healthcare, approaching this area from a humanistic skills perspective.

MARGARET FISHER is Associate Professor in Health Studies – Midwifery, at the University of Plymouth. She qualified as a General Nurse in South Africa and then a Registered Midwife and Midwife Teacher in the UK. She has worked at the University since 1999, fulfilling roles as Academic Lead for the Placement Development Team in Exeter, Programme Lead for the BSc (Hons) Pre Registration Midwifery programme and Acting Lead Midwife for Education; she now leads post-registration midwifery in the team and is the institutional lead for NMC revalidation. Margaret was co-founder of the Schwartz Centre Rounds at the University in 2016 and is deputy chair of the steering group. 

She has a keen interest in interprofessional learning in both academic and practice settings, with an emphasis on reflective and peer support activities. Her specialism is in practice assessment, and she has presented at numerous national and international conferences. Her leadership of a national project on grading of practice in midwifery has informed development of a national tool. She has recently submitted a PhD portfolio of published works exploring the importance of engaging, enabling and embedding positive attitudes to professional scrutiny of practice. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


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