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Nurses' perceptions of critical incidents


Sue Jeavons,
School of Psychological Science,
La Trobe University,
PO Box 199,
Victoria 3552,


Aims of the study.  To determine: (1) the types of clinical events nurses perceived as ‘critical’; and (2) whether nurses' experiences of critical incidents were associated with any demographic variables such as qualifications and current area of work.

Background.  A review of the literature revealed little research has investigated in detail which clinical events nurses perceived as ‘critical’, apart from two North American studies. Exploratory research of Australian nurses was undertaken to confirm and contrast their understandings and views with those of other work specialities and North American findings.

Design/methods.  Two hundred and twenty-seven full-time registered nurses at a metropolitan medical centre responded to a survey questionnaire designed for the study based on findings of earlier studies regarding critical incidents.

Results.  Respondents viewed the sexual abuse of a child and death of a child as the most critical of events listed on the questionnaire and an emergency situation as the most frequent and stressful incident in the previous year. Factor analysis indicated the existence of three types of critical incident represented by Grief, Emergency, and Risk Scales. Events on the Grief scale were most stressful for respondents. Although several significant relationships were found for demographics with the Grief and Risk Scales, findings were considered tentative because of disproportionate representation on many of the demographics.

Conclusion.  Further research is necessary to substantiate the findings of the study. However, the identification of the scales provided a concise way of conceptualizing the essential elements of critical incidents.