The recent increase in use of neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome is set against a backdrop of concerns about harm associated with use of these high-risk drugs. Bedside nurses play a pivotal role in the safe and effective use of these agents.


To describe critical care nurses’ knowledge of the therapeutic properties, adverse effects, and monitoring parameters associated with NMBAs.


A prospective, multicenter survey of medical intensive care unit nurses between July 2012 and May 2013. The web-based survey instrument was designed, pretested, and administered under the direction of a multidisciplinary group of individuals.


Responses from 160 nurses (22% of eligible nurses) were analyzed. Most respondents were able to identify NMBAs correctly as nonanalgesic (93%) and nonanxiolytic (83%). The perceived durations of action of NMBAs varied widely, and few nurses were familiar with patient-specific considerations related to drug elimination. Most (70%) recognized the independent associations between NMBAs and footdrop, muscle breakdown, and corneal ulceration. Pressure ulcers and a history of neuromuscular disease were the characteristics of patients perceived to most heighten the risk of NMBA use.


Critical care nurses are knowledgeable about the importance of concurrent analgesia and sedation during use of NMBAs. Routes of elimination, duration of action, and adverse effects were less commonly known and represent areas for focused education and quality improvement surrounding use of NMBAs in the intensive care unit.

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