Honors Program

Honors in Nursing

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Lisa Davenport

Thesis Professor Department


Thesis Reader(s)

Malisa Overbey, Joy Wachs


The intensive care unit is an extreme environment which houses the most critically ill patients in a hospital. As a result, an array of equipment, IV lines, medications, and sounds that are unfamiliar to the general public can be found. These factors, added to the fragile emotional state of families and friends who have recently admitted a loved one, can be overwhelming. This rush of unforeseen stimuli often leads to feelings of fear and powerlessness (Farrell, Joseph, & Schwartz-Barcott, 2005).

The patients in Intensive Care Units (ICU) are the primary focus of staff; some need virtually continuous care. As a result, the needs of family and friends often go unnoticed. Reasons for this include the supposition that family is bothersome, disruptive, and a distraction from the patient’s care (Farell et al., 2005). Factors such as high patient acuity or limited staffing contribute to this phenomenon as well (Farell et al., 2005).

This lack of attention to family members is often overlooked in the health care environment as families are not given high priority. However, families are expected to make essential decisions regarding their loved one’s care, as well as provide the patient with continuous love and support. The family’s ability to provide love and support for the patient, as well as make decisions about the patient’s care is hindered during periods of emotional distress, especially in situations where patients cannot speak for themselves (Bailey, Sabbagh, Loiselle, Boileau, McVey, 2009). When arriving on the unit for the first time, family and friends are exposed to a high acuity environment as well as circumstances foreign to them, with little education by the nursing staff. For nurses who work in this type of environment daily, it is easy to become desensitized. Desensitization results in a lack of sensitivity to patients and their families, causing increased anxiety due to fear of the unknown. Without effective orientation to the unit, family and friends may assume the worst (Azoulay et al. 2002). Previous research has shown that family satisfaction and understanding of patients’ treatment leads to a better experience for the family, encouraging them to be present and supportive of the patient (Azoulay et al., 2002).

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

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Creative Commons License
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