The Emotional Labour of Caring for Patients at the End of Life

Deborah Holman

  • Abstract

    Nurses’ emotional commitment to their patients contributes to the quality and excellence of nursing care and enhances the nurse–patient relationship. Nurses are expected to manage their emotions in order to present a professional demeanour and maintain professional boundaries, while at the same time provide genuine caring behaviour to their patients. However, if not adequately educated and supported, caring for patients at the end of life can provoke feelings of anxiety, fear and helplessness in nurses. It is only in relatively recent years that the nursing profession has begun to look more closely at the emotional cost to nurses of managing, hiding and suppressing their emotions — what has been termed ‘emotional labour’. This article will discuss the emotional labour of nursing and explore the significance and therapeutic value of emotional labour in the lives of patients at the end of life. It will then discuss the implications of emotional labour for the nursing profession in relation to the need to ensure nurses receive more support and education regarding managing their emotions whilst caring for others. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Contributors

    Deborah Holman


    Correct at article publish date

    Deborah Holman, Social Care Service Lead, St Christopher’s Hospice, London. Email:

    Original publishing information

    • Publisher: St Christopher's Hospice
    • Publish date: 01/01/2014
    • Volume: 4
    • Issue: 1

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

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