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How military nurses rationalize their postoperative pain assessment decisions


  • Phil Harper,

    1. Phil Harper BA MSc PhD RN Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing School of Health and Social Care, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK
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  • Steven Ersser,

    1. Steven Ersser BSc PhD RN Professor of Nursing Development & Skin Care Research Institute of Health & Community Studies, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK
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  • Mary Gobbi

    1. Mary Gobbi PhD RN Senior Lecturer in Nursing University of Southampton School of Nursing and Midwifery, Southampton, UK
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Title. How military nurses rationalize their postoperative pain assessment decisions

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to explore how military nurses rationalize their postoperative pain assessment decisions, particularly when these differ from patients’ pain self-reports.

Background.  Postoperative pain is a complex phenomenon influenced by many factors that make assessment difficult. Nurses are taught to believe what patients say about their pain. However, their attitudes to pain are influenced by their cultural background and they may disagree with patients’ self-reports. Military nurses belong to a military culture with different pain attitudes that may also influence their postoperative pain assessment.

Method.  An ethnomethodological ethnography study was carried out in 2003. A purposive sample of 29 British military surgical/orthopaedic Registered Nurses were interviewed to identify their taken-for-granted assumptions and commonsense cultural knowledge surrounding postoperative pain assessment. The data were analysed using a systematic process of inductive reasoning aided by Non-numerical, Unstructured Data for Indexing, Searching and Theorizing (qsr n6, nud*ist).

Findings.  Participants told two distinct stories in their postoperative pain narratives. The first, the cultural story, described how military nurses normally assess postoperative pain and revealed taken-for-granted assumptions surrounding this assessment. However, when military nurses believe that patients over- or under-report their pain, the cultural story was challenged through a collective story in which nurses used their commonsense knowledge to account for these differences.

Conclusion.  Postoperative pain assessment within a military culture is complex, but all nurses need to be aware that their socialization into different nursing cultures may influence their attitudes to postoperative pain assessment.