The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to describe neuroscience intensive care unit (NICU) nurses' perceptions regarding their roles and responsibilities in the decision-making process during the change in intensity of care and end-of-life care for patients. Twelve NICU nurses agreed to a private moderately structured interview. Three major themes summarize the data: (1) providing guidance, (2) being positioned in the middle of the communication process, and (3) feeling the emotions of patients and families. The nurse caring for a patient at the end of life provides guidance from the middle or “hub” of the communication process between family members and physicians. The nurses in this study describe an array of feelings associated with this role. This research adds to the limited body of knowledge concerning critical care nurses' experiences with end-of-life care. Providing guidance and being in the middle of the communication process can be a lonely, challenging, yet rewarding position. Results of this study provide a basis for offering emotional support to NICU nurses who care for patients at the end of life.
Questions or comments about this article may be directed to Amy O. Calvin, PhD RN, at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is an assistant professor at the School of Nursing, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX, and a nurse researcher in palliative care at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, Houston, TX.
Dorothy M. Kite-Powell, MSN RN CCRN CNS, is a manager in outcomes management and research at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, Houston, TX.
Joanne V. Hickey, PhD RN ACNP BC FAAN FCCM, is a professor at the School of Nursing, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX.