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acute care nurses, comfort care, end-of-life, moral distress, palliative care, qualitative research



  1. White, Dianne MS, RN
  2. Meeker, Mary Ann DNS, RN, CHPN


Some of the most ethically challenging and emotionally demanding aspects of nursing occur in caring for patients and their family at the end of life. The aims of this study were to examine the views of acute care nurses caring for patients during transition to comfort care, to describe the personal impact on nurses, and to identify nurses' strategies for self-support and development of competence. Using a qualitative descriptive approach, we analyzed data from 26 semistructured interviews.


Nurses experienced moral distress in situations of continuing treatment when a cure was unlikely. In managing symptoms for patients, they struggled to foster an often-tenuous balance of patient comfort and calm without oversedation. They struggled to manage the competing demands of a workload including patients receiving curative care juxtaposed with those focused on comfort care. Nurses reflected on their fears as new nurses caring for end-of-life patients, the inadequacy of their preparation for this role, and their distress when the care provided felt inadequate to them.


Nurses navigated challenges through support from nurse colleagues and effective leaders. They appealed to administrators to attend to care concerns arising from time-intensive nature of care. Mentoring and education facilitated assimilation to comfort-care nursing for novice nurses.