BACKGROUND: Critical care nurses and physicians usually care for those patients whose condition progresses to brain death and are also often responsible for requesting organ donation from the family of a brain-dead patient. We hypothesized that staff support, knowledge, and training levels would be significantly associated with organ donation rates. OBJECTIVE: To assess the readiness of critical care staff to successfully handle requests for organ donation. METHODS: A total of 1061 critical care staff from 28 hospitals in four separate regions of the United States completed a questionnaire that assessed (1) factual knowledge about organ donation, (2) understanding of brain death, (3) previous training in procedures for requesting donations, and (4) comfort levels with the donation process. RESULTS: Staff training in effective procedures for requesting organ donations was significantly correlated with hospitals' donation rates. Less than a third of respondents, however, had received training in explaining brain death to and requesting organ donation from a grieving family. In hospitals with high rates of organ donation, 52.9% of staff had received training; in hospitals with low rates of organ donation, 23.5% of staff had received training. Levels of factual knowledge about organ donation and brain death were unexpectedly low but were not significantly related to hospitals' rates of organ donation. CONCLUSIONS: Training of critical care nurses and physicians in effective procedures for requesting organ donation is significantly associated with higher rates of organ donation, yet two thirds of critical care staff report no relevant training. Consequently, critical care staff cannot be considered ready to effectively handle requests for organ donation.

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