Qualitative systematic review: the unique experiences of the nurse-family member when a loved one is admitted with a critical illness

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To interpret and synthesize nurse-family member experiences when a critically ill loved one is admitted to hospital.


Having a family member hospitalized in a critical condition is an important stressor. When the family member is also a nurse, the provision of care is more complex, yet little research exists on this issue.


Systematic review using Thomas and Harden's approach to thematic synthesis of qualitative research.

Data sources

Primary studies were located by searching CINAHL, Proquest, Journals@Ovid, SCOPUS, Cochrane Library and Google Scholar. No date restrictions were applied due to a lack of relevant literature. All studies that met inclusion criteria were retrieved (n = 1717) and seven met the review aim.

Review Methods

Following critical appraisal, seven studies from 1999–2011 describing the nurse-family member's experience were reviewed and synthesized.


Six characteristics of the nurse-family member experience were identified: specialized knowledge; dual-role conflicts; competing expectations; building relationships; being ‘let in’; and healthcare setting.


Nurse-family members experience important stressors that can negatively affect their psychological health and experience as a healthcare consumer. Nurse-family members want a different type of care than other healthcare consumers. Acknowledging nurse-family members' specialized knowledge and dual role, keeping them fully informed and allowing them to be with the patient and feel in control can reduce their fear and anxiety. Further research is needed to develop a deeper understanding of the unique experiences, challenges and needs of nurse-family members to provide them with an enhanced level of care.

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