• caring;
  • concept analysis;
  • concept development;
  • meta-synthesis

Aim.  The aim of this investigation was to enhance the understanding of the concept of caring.

Background.  Despite many analyses and studies of caring, the concept is not fully understood. This lack of clarity is unsettling given that caring is suggested to be the essence of nursing and a component of nursing's guiding paradigm. Meta-synthesis methods offer a way to push the understanding of caring forward using existing research findings.

Design.  Qualitative meta-synthesis.

Method.  Meta-synthesis and grounded theory strategies were adapted to synthesize findings from 49 qualitative reports and six concept analyses of caring.

Results.  Results from this work indicate that caring is a context-specific interpersonal process that is characterized by expert nursing practice, interpersonal sensitivity and intimate relationships. It is preceded by a recipient's need for and openness to caring, and the nurse's professional maturity and moral foundations. In addition, a working environment that is conducive to caring is necessary. Consequences include enhanced mental well-being among nurses and patients, and improvements in patients’ physical well-being.

Relevance to clinical practice.  It appears that caring has the potential to improve the well-being of patients and nurses. It is recommended that healthcare agencies and educational institutions devote more resources to cultivate the caring among employees and students.

Conclusions.  The findings explicate a cohesive process of caring. They provide insight into the human attributes and clinical milieu that are necessary for caring to emerge. They also offer clarity regarding the therapeutic benefits of caring.