Critical care nurses working in urban settings have reported obstacles in caring for dying patients. However, the perceptions of such obstacles by nurses working in critical access hospitals (CAHs), which are located in rural areas, are unknown.


To study stories and experiences related to obstacles in providing end-of-life care reported by CAH nurses.


This exploratory, cross-sectional study presents the qualitative stories and experiences of nurses working in CAHs as reported on a questionnaire. Quantitative data have been previously reported.


Sixty-four CAH nurses provided 95 categorizable responses. Two major categories emerged: (1) family, physician, and ancillary staff issues and (2) nursing, environment, protocol, and miscellaneous issues. Issues with family behaviors were families’ insistence on futile care, intrafamily disagreement about do-not-resuscitate and do-not-intubate orders, issues with out-of-town family members, and family members’ desire to hasten the patient’s death. Issues with physician behaviors were providing false hope, dishonest communication, continuation of futile treatments, and not ordering pain medications. Nursing-related issues were not having enough time to provide end-of-life care, already knowing the patient or family, and compassion for the dying patient and the family.


Family issues and physician behaviors are common obstacles in rural nurses’ provision of end-of-life care. Education of family members on end-of-life care is challenging because it is most families’ first experience with intensive care unit terminology and technology. Further research on end-of-life care in CAHs is needed.

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