Critical care providers’ support of families in bereavement: a mixed-methods study Academic Article uri icon

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  • PURPOSE: When people die in intensive care units (ICUs), as many as half of their family members may experience a severe grief reaction. While families report a need for bereavement support, most ICUs do not routinely follow-up with family members. Clinicians are typically involved in supporting families during death and dying, yet little is known about how they work with families in bereavement. Our goal was to explore how clinicians support bereaved families, identify factors that facilitate and hinder support, and understand their interest and needs for follow-up. METHODS: Mixed-methods study of nurses and physicians working in one of nine adult medical-surgical ICUs in academic hospitals across Canada. Qualitative interviews followed quantitative surveys to reflect, expand, and explain the quantitative results. RESULTS: Both physicians and nurses perceived that they provided empathetic support to bereaved families. Emotional engagement was a crucial element of support, but clinicians were not always able to engage with families because of their roles, responsibilities, experiences, or unit resources. Another important factor that could facilitate or challenge engagement was the degree to which families accepted death. Clinicians were interested in participating in a follow-up bereavement program, but their participation was contingent on time, training, and the ability to manage their own emotions related to death and bereavement in the ICU. CONCLUSIONS: Multiple opportunities were identified to enhance current bereavement support for families, including the desire of ICU clinicians for formal follow-up programs. Many psychological, sociocultural, and structural factors would need to be considered in program design.


  • Kalocsai, Csilla
  • des Ordons, Amanda Roze
  • Sinuff, Tasnim
  • Koo, Ellen
  • Smith, Orla
  • Cook, Deborah
  • Golan, Eyal
  • Hales, Sarah
  • Tomlinson, George
  • Strachan, Derek
  • MacKinnon, Christopher J
  • Downar, James

publication date

  • July 2020