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Oncology Nurses' Perceptions of Obstacles and Supportive Behaviors at the End of Life

Renea L. Beckstrand
Josie Moore
Lynn Callister
A. Elaine Bond
ONF 2009, 36(4), 446-453 DOI: 10.1188/09.ONF.446-453

Purpose/Objectives: To determine the magnitude of selected obstacles and supportive behaviors in providing end-of-life (EOL) care to patients with cancer as perceived by oncology nurses.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: National survey sample.

Sample: A geographically dispersed national random sample of 1,000 Oncology Nursing Society members who had cared for inpatient patients with cancer, could read English, and had experience in EOL care.

Methods: Eligible respondents received a 68-item questionnaire in the mail adapted from previous studies and were asked to rate the size of obstacles and supportive behavior items in caring for patients with cancer at the EOL.

Main Research Variables: EOL, oncology, barriers, supportive behaviors, oncology nurses, and survey research.

Findings: Returns after three mailings yielded 375 usable questionnaires from 907 eligible respondents for a return rate of 41%. The items with the highest perceived obstacle magnitude were (a) dealing with angry family members, (b) families not accepting what they are told about patients' poor prognosis, and (c) nurses being called away from dying patients to care for other patients. The three-highest scoring supportive behaviors were (a) allowing family members adequate time alone with patients after they died, (b) having social work or palliative care staff as part of the patient care team, and (c) having family members accept that patients are dying.

Conclusions: EOL care can be improved by working to decrease the highest-rated barriers and by continuing to support the highest-rated supportive behaviors.

Implications for Nursing: Oncology nurses are dedicated, experienced, and comfortable handling most issues in EOL care. Recommendations to support oncology nurses include strategies to interact effectively with angry, anxious, or overly optimistic family members as well as involving social work and palliative care staff on the oncology interdisciplinary team. In addition, the information regarding identified obstacles and supportive behaviors in oncology EOL care can be used to facilitate discussion and change within oncology interdisciplinary teams and improve EOL care for patients with cancer and their families.

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