When the family member is a nurse: the role and needs of nurse family members during critical illness of a loved one

Susan W Salmond
Intensive & Critical Care Nursing: the Official Journal of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses 2011, 27 (1): 10-8

OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to explore the experience of being a nurse family member of a relative hospitalised for a critical illness. This paper will describe how nurse family members viewed the challenges of the illness experience and the strategies used to manage the challenges and cope with their loved one's critical illness.

METHODS: A qualitative approach using open-ended, focused exploratory interviews was used. Theoretical sampling was used to obtain a total of 22 participants.

RESULTS: The knowledge base of the nurse filtered the experience for the nurse family member and their nurse role identity infused each component of the experience. Nurse family members identified their primary role as maintaining guard to protect the patient and family. To accomplish this, six challenges were identified: masking heightened emotional turmoil; assuming the in-charge role; assessing and monitoring; seeking information and meaning; advocating; and, "letting go to assume family and self roles". Strategies to facilitate meeting these challenges are described.

CONCLUSIONS: In order to provide family-centered care, the critical care nurse must recognise the unique needs of the "nurse family member." By empathising with the emotional experience, allowing the "in-charge" nurse family member to be part of the team, facilitating ongoing observation and monitoring by the nurse family member, seeking out and clarifying information for the nurse family member and partnering to advocate for the patient, the critical care nurse builds a relationship of trust that allows the nurse family member to assume their family role.

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