do not resuscitate, do-not-resuscitate order, end-of-life care, hospice care, hospitalized patients, palliative care



  1. Kelly, Patricia A. DNP, APRN, AGN-BC, AOCN
  2. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, FCNS, FAAN
  3. Hodges, Karen M. BSN, RN, OCN
  4. Vuong, Ellen Y. MSN, RN
  5. Lee, Joyce C. MSN, RN, NEA-BC, OCN
  6. Lockwood, Suzy W. PhD, RN, OCN, FAAN


Background: Confusion about what a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order means, including its misinterpretation as "do not treat," has been extensively documented in the literature. Yet there is a paucity of research concerning nurses' perspectives on DNR orders.


Purpose and design: This mixed-methods study was designed to explore nurses' perspectives on the meaning and interpretation of DNR orders in relation to caring for hospitalized adults with such orders.


Methods: Direct care nurses on three units in a large urban hospital were asked to respond online to a case study by indicating how they would prioritize care based on the patient's DNR designation. These nurses were then invited to participate in open-ended interviews with a nurse researcher. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed.


Findings: A total of 35 nurses responded to the case study survey. The majority chose to prioritize palliative care, despite no indication that any plan of care was in place. Thirteen nurses also completed a one-on-one interview. Analysis of interview data revealed this overarching theme: varying interpretations of DNR orders among nurses were common, resulting in unintended consequences. Participants also reported perceived variances among health care team members, patients, and family members. Such misinterpretations resulted in shifts in care, varying responses to deteriorating status, tension, and differences in role expectations for health care team members.


Conclusions: Nurses have opportunities to address misconceptions about care for patients with DNR orders through practice, education, advocacy and policy, and research.