Nurses’ experiences of managing vulnerability when working with seriously ill children
Evidence and practice    

Nurses’ experiences of managing vulnerability when working with seriously ill children

Alice Nugent Psychotherapist, Dublin Business School, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Gráinne Donohue Research fellow, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Agnes Higgins Professor of mental health, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Why you should read this article:
  • To understand why children’s nurses can be affected by distress when caring for seriously ill children

  • To familiarise yourself with some of the techniques children’s nurses use to manage feelings of grief

  • To learn how healthcare organisations can enhance the way they support nurses who care for seriously ill children

Background Nurses who work with very unwell or dying children may experience intense sorrow and distress in response to loss, which can take an emotional toll on them, potentially affecting care provision.

Aim This study aimed to explore the experiences of children’s nurses who work with seriously ill children and to gain an insight into the dynamics involved in working with children and their families, as well as the nurses’ experiences of managing their own vulnerability.

Methods In-depth interviews were conducted with five children’s nurse participants, and data were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis.

Findings Three thematic categories were identified – ‘being emotionally full’, ‘navigating the rules of grief’ and ‘prism of time’. Caring for seriously ill and dying children is a unique type of nursing and is often regarded as contrary to the ‘natural’ process of life. Findings were dominated by unresolved grief and the mechanisms used to cope with this emotional pain.

Conclusion Nurse educators must be aware of the strategies that people use to avoid engaging with painful emotional experiences. Without this understanding and self-awareness, children’s nurses can be caught in a cycle of unresolved grief that affects their own health and could affect their ability to engage with children and families in an empathetic and supportive way.

Nursing Children and Young People. doi: 10.7748/ncyp.2022.e1403

Peer review

This article has been subject to open peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software

Correspondence

donohuga@tcd.ie

Conflict of interest

None declared

Nugent A, Donohue G, Higgins A (2021) Nurses’ experiences of managing vulnerability when working with seriously ill children. Nursing Children and Young People. doi: 10.7748/ncyp.2022.e1403

Published online: 10 January 2022

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