Article Text

Death and Dying in Intensive Care: Emotional Labour of Nurses
  1. Lucy Ryan, Staff Nurse,
  2. Jane Seymour, Sue Ryder Care Professor in Palliative and End of Life Studies
  1. Adult Critical Care, City Hospital, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
  2. Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, The University of Nottingham. Email: lucy.ryan{at}


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

  • Death and dying
  • Education
  • Emotional labour
  • Intensive care nursing
  • Palliative and end-of-life care
  • Withdrawal of treatment

Statistics from

Request permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.