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Oncology Nurses' Personal Understandings About Palliative Care

Margaret M. Mahon
William J. McAuley
ONF 2010, 37(3), E141-E150 DOI: 10.1188/10.ONF.E141-E150

Purpose/Objectives: To examine how oncology nurses define palliative care, views about who should and should not receive palliative care, and beliefs about palliative care decision making, including who should be involved and how decisions should be managed.

Design: Qualitative interviews and analysis.

Setting: Preferred location of each respondent.

Sample: 12 nurses representing different aspects of oncology nursing.

Methods: An interview guide was employed to ensure that specific topics were covered. Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis consisted of independent, multiple reviews of the transcripts to share initial findings and identify, refine, and reach consensus on major themes and subthemes.

Main Research Variables: Nurses' definitions of palliative care, views about who should and should not receive palliative care, and beliefs about palliative care decision making.

Findings: Nurses' perceptions of palliative care focused on symptom management. Most did not distinguish between palliative care and hospice and believed that only patients who were near the end of life should receive palliative care. They viewed their role in decisions regarding palliative care to be limited and indirect.

Conclusions: Although oncology nurses should be at the cutting edge with regard to palliative care, these nurses' personal understandings could serve to limit care for many patients with cancer who could benefit from it.

Implications for Nursing: Education and clinical experience embedded in a continuous quality-improvement model are needed to ensure sustained change that will overcome the multiple, interwoven barriers to providing appropriate palliative care.

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