The lived experiences of critical care nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. A qualitative systematic review

Shalyn Rourke, Andrew Dimech, Rachel Bacon, Catherine Paterson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objectives: To critically synthesis the qualitative literature to understand the experiences of critical care nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research methodology: A meta-aggregation systematic review was reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Relevant online databases were searched using a wide range of keywords and subject headings. All qualitative studies were included to understand the lived experiences of critical care nurses in the intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic. All studies were screened using a pre-eligibility screening criteria by three reviewers. The Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Critical Appraisal Checklist for Qualitative Research was used to provide methodological appraisal. The JBI method of meta-aggregation was used to extract, synthesize, and categorise the data. Findings: 17 publications met the inclusion criteria. 136 individual findings were extracted, which were synthesised into 18 categories and eight synthesised findings. The eight synthesised findings included,1) Working as a team to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, 2) Striving to provide patient centred care, 3) Coping with frequent deaths in the intensive care unit, 4) Challenges of supporting patients family from a distance, 5) The psychological impact of caring for critically unwell patients with COVID-19, 6) Working through the challenges of the intensive care unit setting during the pandemic, 7) The challenges of wearing personal protective equipment while undertaking patient care, 8) The impact of working in the intensive care unit during the pandemic on life at home. Conclusion: This qualitative systematic review has given new insight into the lived experiences of critical care nurses. There were significant psychological and physical impacts on critical care nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, improving psychological support, maintaining adequate staffing levels/skill mix to ensure basic nursing care can be completed, and the attendance of leadership/management staff is essential to ensure the retention of critical care nurses and achieve optimal patient outcomes. Implications for clinical practice: This review has highlighted implications for staff retention (counselling, skills development, contingency staffing), the need for improved management/leadership strategies and human resource policies to support critical care nurses when hospitals are in crisis. Additionally, the presence and needs of the family members of critically unwell patients’ needs to be prioritised in the intensive care unit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103555
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalIntensive and Critical Care Nursing
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Nov 2023


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