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Being family: the family experience when an adult member is hospitalized with a critical illness


  • Sandra K Eggenberger PhD, RN,

  • Tommie P Nelms PhD, RN

Sandra K Eggenberger
Associate Professor
School of Nursing
Minnesota State University
Mankato MN 56001 USA
Telephone: +1 507 389 6821


Aims and objectives.  The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand and interpret the ‘family experience’ with an adult member hospitalized with a critical illness.

Background.  Nursing practice in critical care settings has traditionally focused on individual patient needs with only tangential recognition of family needs. Investigation to describe the family experience to illuminate family nursing practice has been lacking. The majority of studies thus far related to critical illness and family are quantitative and reveal constraints to family care and problematic nurse–family interactions. The logical next step is a new kind of family research to enhance nursing of the family as a whole.

Design.  Family systems theory and existential phenomenology provided the frameworks guiding the study.

Methods.  Semi-structured ‘family as a group’ interviews were performed with 11 families. Data were analysed using Van Manen's hermeneutic method. Rigor was addressed with trustworthiness criteria.

Results.  The family experience was analysed within Van Manen's framework of lived space, lived relation, lived body and lived time. A constitutive pattern of being family was revealed.

Conclusions.  Being family bonds families and makes them exceedingly strong during the critical illness experience. Being a family unit is what gives most families the ability to endure the emotional upheaval and suffering that come with the critical illness experience.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses have profound power to help families bear this experience. Family caring is enhanced with the presence of nurses who recognize the importance of ‘Being Family’ for the family, acknowledge the significance of the nurse–family relationship and act on a commitment to be with and for the family.

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