For their patients : a grounded theory study of hospice nurses responding to their patients' suffering
Sacks, Jodi Lee
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The purpose of this study was to develop an inductive theory describing the process that hospice nurses use to identify and respond to their patients' suffering. Additionally, the study sought to describe the coping strategies that hospice nurses used when working with patients they considered to be suffering. By examining nurses' responses to suffering, this study is the first step in developing effective interventions to alleviate patient suffering and mitigate its consequences on the nurses caring for those patients. Additionally, by knowing the different strategies that nurses use to cope when working with suffering patients, nurse administrators could institute educational programs, build supportive environments, and develop policies to support nurses as they deal with these difficult clinical situations. This is especially important in a hospice environment where the registered nurse is the focal point for ensuring ongoing patient assessment and implementation of the interdisciplinary plan of care by the various team members. Charmaz (2006) description of grounded theory methodology guided the study design and analysis. Participants identified and responded to their patients' suffering within the context of the nurse-patient relationship. Phases of the relationship included: preparation, establishment, cultivation, maintenance, and letting go. The participants gained insight into the psychosocial and existential aspects of the patient's psyches by cultivating the nurse-patient relationship. Within this relational context, the participants used a four-phase process: observation, issue assessment, suffering, and intervention to respond to their patient's suffering. In addition to pain and other signs of physical suffering, the participants identified other aspects of suffering: role losses, the patient's fear of the impending death, the patient's aloneness, and the patient's feelings of guilt or regret. Interestingly, suffering also was considered a family affair and could involve the loss of self-identity. While the participants recognized the importance of self-care, often they had difficulty naming strategies used to respond and cope with their patients' suffering. Clinical supervision and emotional support through mentoring and practical guidance need to be further developed to help nurses cope with the complexity of feelings that arise when caring for dying people.