Death and Dying in Intensive Care: Emotional Labour of Nurses

Lucy Ryan, Jane Seymour

  • Abstract

    Intensive care unit (ICU) nursing is associated with emotional labour. ICU nurses regularly care for dying patients. End-of-life care (EoLC) can be a major cause of stress in ICU, particularly in relation to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, managing the transition from curative care to EoLC and dealing with the distress of patients, relatives/loved ones. However, ICU nurses receive varying levels of emotional support and education in relation to EoLC. As such, they may lack confidence and skill in EoLC provision, potentially leading to the development of negative attitudes towards caring for dying patients, relatives/loved ones and the adoption of protective coping strategies, such as distancing techniques. This article explores the emotional labour of ICU nurses when caring for dying patients and their relatives/loved ones, including the difficulty nurses experience when managing the transition from curative care to EoLC. It will discuss the emotional and grief reactions experienced by ICU nurses, before considering the education and support nurses need in order to prepare them better to provide high-quality EoLC. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Contributors

    Lucy Ryan, Jane Seymour


    Correct at article publish date

    Adult Critical Care, City Hospital, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
    Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, The University of Nottingham. Email:

    Original publishing information

    • Publisher: St Christopher's Hospice
    • Publish date: 01/01/2013
    • Volume: 3
    • Issue: 2

    Permissions: © 2015, Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to

  • Downloads

Full article access

To download and read the full article you need to log in

Not yet registered? Registration is free and easy.

Register online now

St Christopher's education events


Quality End of Life Care for All

Find out more