Background. Cardiac surgical patients are distinguished by their potential for instability in the early postoperative period, highly invasive haemodynamic monitoring technologies and unique clinical presentations as a result of undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass. Little is known about nurses’ perceptions of assuming responsibility for such patients. An understanding of nurses’ perceptions may identify areas of practice that can be improved and assist in determining the adequacy of current decision supports.
Aim. The aim of this study was to describe critical care nurses’ perceptions of assuming responsibility for the nursing management of cardiac patients in the initial two-hour postoperative period.
Design. An exploratory descriptive study based on naturalistic decision-making.
Methods. Thirty-eight nurses were interviewed immediately following a two-hour observation of their clinical practice. Content analysis and a systematic thematic analysis process called ‘Framework’ were used to analyse the interview transcripts.
Results. Nurses described their perceptions of managing patients in terms of how they felt about making decisions for complex cardiac surgical patients and in terms of how clinical processes unique to the admission phase impacted their decision-making. Nurses felt either daunted or stimulated and challenged when making decisions. Nurses identified handover from anaesthetists, settling in procedures and forms of collegial assistance as important processes that impacted their decision-making.
Conclusion. Nurses’ previous experiences with similar patients influenced how they felt about making decisions during the initial two-hour postoperative period, but did not alter their views about processes important for patient safety during this time.
Relevance to clinical practice. Feelings expressed by nurses in this study highlight the need for clinical supervision and appropriate allocation of resources during the immediate recovery period after cardiac surgery. Nurses identified ways to improve clinical processes that impacted their decision-making during the immediate recovery of cardiac surgical patients.