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Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2010 Apr;14(2):93-100. doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2009.09.006. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

Knowing the family: interpretations of family nursing in oncology and palliative care.

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Capital Health/QEII Cancer Care Program, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Victoria 11-006, 1278 Tower Rd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H2Y9.



Families are acknowledged as a focus of care in oncology nursing in many countries but the meaning of "family nursing" in this practice setting has received little attention from researchers and theorists. In this article, we report the findings of a study that explored family nursing practices in three adult cancer care settings: ambulatory care (medical and radiation oncology clinics), a palliative care service, and an in-patient unit.


Data included in-depth interviews with 30 nurses and 19 families, as well as participant observations in each practice setting. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and the analyses guided by philosophical hermeneutics.


We identified several narratives related to family nursing practices, and in this article we offer the interpretations of two of these narratives: 1) knowing the family and being known; and 2) addressing family concerns and distress. In knowing the family and being known nurses opened relational space for families to become involved in the care of their loved ones and gained an understanding of the family by "reading" non-verbal and para-verbal cues. Knowing the family created opportunities for nurses to address family concerns and distress in meaningful ways. These included guiding families by being a bridge, helping families to conserve relationships, and negotiating competing family agendas. Nurses relied on questioning practices to create relational space with, and among, family members.


Implications for the development of family nursing practice, theory, and education are discussed.

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