A comparison of the effects of patients’ pain on nurses working in burns and neonatal intensive care units


  • Sue Nagy RN PhD FCN(NSW) FRCNA

    1. Professor of Paediatric Nursing, The Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and The University of Western Sydney, Nepean, Sydney, Australia
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Professor Sue Nagy The Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, PO Box 3515 Parramatta, NSW 2124, Australia.


Nurses are more likely than other health professionals to be exposed to individuals who suffer severe pain for extended periods of time. Such exposure is likely to arouse emotional distress which not only has implications for their occupational health but may interfere with their ability to manage pain effectively. This study compared the emotional reactions to their patients’ pain, of nurses who were exposed to patients with severe and obvious pain (nurses working in burns units) and nurses whose patients’ pain is uncertain because they are unable to communicate (nurses working in neonatal intensive care units). The results showed that pain generated greater anxiety in nurses caring for patients with severe burns, but that they also demonstrated a greater sense of personal competence and control over the management of their patients’ pain. The findings also showed that when dealing with patients’ pain the morale of nurses was linked to: (a) perceived challenges to their images of themselves as alleviators of pain; (b) the extent to which their sense of personal vulnerability was aroused by contact with patients experiencing severe pain; (c) their beliefs about their ability to assess patients’ pain; and (d) the quality of their professional relationships with the medical staff who controlled the most powerful forms of pain relief.