Aim. To describe the actual clinical activities undertaken by a critical care nurse consultant in an eight-bedded adult surgical high dependency unit within a large NHS Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Background. In the United Kingdom, the first critical care nurse consultants were approved in 2000 following the Department of Health's (1999) revised career structure for nurses. Expert practice is a core function of the role although the nature of expert practice in the context of critical care is unclear. Expert practice is often deemed to be a feature of advanced practice and although a number of studies have investigated this in context of critical care, there is little insight into the nature of advanced practitioners’ clinical practice and how it might influence patient outcome.
Design methods. A diary was used by a critical care nurse consultant to record activity during scheduled clinical sessions. Data were collected for four months: 39 sessions were evaluated. Qualitative data were content analysed and coded into categories. Clinical activities were coded, categorized and analysed using SPSS 11.0 for windows (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
Findings. Clinical activities included direct care activities, clinical leadership, education and training. Two main themes emerged from the qualitative data and were categorized as clinical reasoning and clinical instruction. Clinical activities arising from clinical reasoning and clinical instruction were aimed at minimizing risk and the provision of quality care. In doing this, one of the outcomes was the detection and resolution of untoward clinical occurrences.
Conclusion. The level of achievement – or end point – of clinical activities was that the patient was established in ‘a state free from risk or harm that optimises rehabilitation’. ‘A state free from risk or harm that optimizes rehabilitation’ might be one outcome reflecting the needs of individual critically ill patients that is sensitive to individual nursing contribution.
Relevance to clinical practice. There is increasing pressure on health-care professionals to identify and measure their individual impact on the outcome of patients. This study adds further insight into the complexities associated with evaluating the influence of individual contribution on patient outcome, especially when it is characterized by complex processes involving clinical judgement and decision-making.