From the Inside Out: A Critical Ethnographic Look at Paediatric Intensive Care Nursing and the Determinants of Nurse Retention

  • Paula Mahon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Health (DHealth)


The aim of this study is to examine key features within the cultural context in a Canadian Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) environment as experienced by nurses, and to identify what these influences are and how they shape nurses’ intentions to remain at critically ill children’s bed-sides for the duration of their careers. This is a qualitative study which follows a critical ethnographic approach. Over 20 hours of observation and face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted. Approximately one third of the nursing population at the research site PICU were interviewed (N=31). Participants describe a complex process of becoming an expert PICU nurse that involved several stages. By the time participants became experts in this PICU they believed they had significantly narrowed the power imbalance that exists between nursing and medicine. This study illuminates the role both formal and informal education plays in breaking the power barrier for nurses in the PICU. This level of expertise and mutual respect between professions aids in retaining nurses in the PICU. The lack of autonomy and/or respect shown to nurses by administrators appears to be one of the major stressors in nurses’ working lives and can lead to attrition from the PICU. Family Centred Care (FCC) is practiced in paediatrics and certainly accentuated in the PICU as there is usually only one patient assigned per nurse, who thus afforded the time to provide comprehensive care to both the child and the family. This is considered one of the satisfiers for nurses in the PICU and tends to encourage retention of nurses in the PICU. However, FCC was found to be an inadequate term to truly encompass the type of holistic care provided by nurses in the PICU.
Date of Award1 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorDavid Wainwright (Supervisor)


  • job satisfaction
  • job retention
  • critical ethnography
  • nursing

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