The emotion: A crucial component in the care of critically ill patients

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The acquisition of experience is a major concern for nurses in intensive care units. Although the emotional component of the clinical practice of these nurses has been widely studied, greater examination is required to determine how this component influences their learning and practical experience.


To discover the relationships between emotion, memory and learning and the impacts on nursing clinical practice.

Research design:

This is a qualitative phenomenological study. The data were collected from open, in-depth interviews. A total of 22 intensive care unit nurses participated in this research between January 2012 and December 2014.

Ethical considerations:

The School of Nursing Ethics Committee approved the study, which complied with ethical principles and required informed consent.


We found a clear relationship between emotion, memory and the acquisition of experience. This relationship grouped three dimensions: (1) satisfaction, to relieve the patient’s pain or discomfort, give confidence and a sense of security to the patient, enable the presence of family members into the intensive care unit and provide family members with a realistic view of the patient’s situation; (2) error experience, which nurses feel when a patient dies, when they fail to accompany a patient in his or her decision to abandon the struggle to live or when they fail to lend support to the patient’s family; and (3) the feel bad–feel good paradox, which occurs when a mistake in the patient’s care or handling of his or her family is repaired.


Emotion is a capacity that impacts on nurses’ experience and influences improvements in clinical practice. Recalling stories of satisfaction helps to reinforce good practice, while recalling stories of errors helps to identify difficulties in the profession and recognise new forms of action. The articulation of emotional competencies may support the development of nursing ethics in the intensive care unit to protect and defend their patients and improve their relationships with families in order to maximise the potential for patient care.

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