Aims and objectives. The aim of the study was to acquire a deeper understanding of what it is to be an intensive care nurse in situations related to questions of withholding or withdrawing curative treatment.
Background. Nurses in intensive care units regularly face critically ill patients. Some patients do not benefit from the treatment and die after days or months of apparent pain and suffering. A general trend is that withdrawal of treatment in intensive care units is increasing. Physicians are responsible for decisions concerning medical treatment, but as nurses must carry out physicians’ decisions, they are involved in the consequences.
Design and methods. The research design was qualitative, based on interpretative phenomenology. The study was carried out at an adult intensive care unit in Norway. Data were collected by group interviews inspired by focus group methodology. Fourteen female intensive care nurses participated, divided into two groups. Colaizzi's model was used in the process of analysis.
Results. The analysis revealed four main themes which captured the nurses’ experiences: loneliness in responsibility, alternation between optimism and pessimism, uncertainty – a constant shadow and professional pride despite little formal influence. The essence of being an intensive care nurse in the care of patients when questions were raised concerning curative treatment or not, was understood as ‘being a critical interpreter and a dedicated helper.’
Conclusions. The findings underpin the important role of intensive care nurses in providing care and treatment to patients related to questions of withholding or withdrawing curative treatment.
Relevance to clinical practice. The findings also show the need for physicians, managers and intensive care nurses themselves to recognize the burdens intensive care nurses carry and to appreciate their knowledge as an important contribution in decision making.