Clinical nurses attend family conferences in the intensive care unit, but their role during these meetings is not yet fully understood.


To assess perceived and observed contributions of the clinical nurse during family conferences.


Prospective cross-sectional survey and review of 40 audio-recorded family conferences conducted in the 44-bed pediatric intensive care unit of an urban pediatric hospital.


Survey responses from 47 nurses were examined. Most nurses thought it important to attend family conferences, but identified workload as a barrier to attendance. They perceived their roles as gaining firsthand knowledge of the discussion and providing a unique perspective regarding patient care, emotional support, and advocacy. Audio recordings revealed that bedside nurses attended 20 (50%) of 40 family conferences and spoke in 5 (25%) of the 20. Nurses verbally contributed 4.6% to the overall speech at the family conference, mostly providing information on patient care.


The clinical nurse is often absent or silent during family conferences in the intensive care unit, despite the important roles they want to play in these settings. Strategies to improve both the physical and verbal participation of clinical nurses during the family conference are suggested, especially in the context of previous research demonstrating the need for more attention in family conferences to social-emotional support and patient advocacy.

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