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J Adv Nurs. 2007 Mar;57(6):623-30.

Nurses' experiences of caring for families with relatives in intensive care units.

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Critical Care University of Nottingham, School of Nursing, Queens Medical Centre University Hospital, Nottingham, UK.



This paper reports an exploratory study of nurses' experiences of caring for families who have relatives in adult intensive care units.


The admission of a critically ill patient into adult intensive care is universally accepted as a crisis for both patients and their families. Family members of critically ill people may experience emotional turmoil and therefore have many needs throughout the course of the relative's illness. It has been identified that nurses are best placed to meet families' needs. Whilst there is a substantial evidence base associated with family needs, little is known about nurses' experiences of caring for these families.


Interviews, informed by Heideggerian philosophy, were conducted with a purposive sample of 12 Registered Nurses working in an adult intensive care unit. Interview transcripts were analysed using Colaizzi's framework. The data were collected in Autumn 2005.


Participants' experiences were categorized into the following themes: defining the nurse's role, role expectations and role conflict. Participants reported lack of confidence, doubts about their professional competence and conflicts between their professional and personal self. These experiences were linked to participants' expectations and self-imposed standards.


Registered Nurses caring for families who have relatives in adult intensive care units face a fundamental conflict both between role expectations and patient care and between professional ideals and being a human. This not only highlights a disparity between nurses everyday family care practice and the underpinning theories but also may contribute to occupational stress.

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