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To analyze bedside clinicians' perspectives regarding the decision process to optimize timing of intubation in sepsis-associated acute respiratory failure.This mixed methods study was conducted from March 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016. Using qualitative research methods, factors that influenced variability in the decision to intubate were organized into categories and used to build a theoretical explanatory model grounded in current practice variance. All coding schemes were independently reviewed for accuracy and consistency. Themes and findings were then refined with member checking by feedback from individuals and from an anonymous questionnaire until saturation was achieved.The practice of intubation varied according to 3 domains: (1) patient factors included the nature of the acute illness, comorbidities, clinical presentation, severity, trajectory, and values and preferences; (2) clinician factors included background, training, experience, and practice style; and (3) system factors included workload, policies and protocols, hierarchy, communications, culture, and team dynamics. In different contexts, intubation was considered early (elective), just in time (urgent), or late (rescue). The initial assessment, initial decision, and reassessment mattered.Recognizing that the variability in both the decision to intubate and its timing depends on many factors, and not on clinical criteria alone, should render the clinician more attentive to the eventual progression of the acute respiratory failure.