Maintaining integrity: How nurses navigate boundaries in pediatric palliative care

Alyssa Erikson, Betty Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To explore how nurses manage personal and professional boundaries in caring for seriously ill children and their families.

Design and methods
Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, a convenience sample of 18 registered nurses from four practice sites was interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide.

Nurses across the sites engaged in a process of maintaining integrity whereby they integrated two competing, yet essential, aspects of their nursing role – behaving professionally and connecting personally. When skillful in both aspects, nurses were satisfied that they provided high-quality, family-centered care to children and families within a clearly defined therapeutic relationship. At times, tension existed between these two aspects and nurses attempted to mitigate the tension. Unsuccessful mitigation attempts led to compromised integrity characterized by specific behavioral and emotional indicators. Successfully mitigating the tension with strategies that prioritized their own needs and healing, nurses eventually restored integrity. Maintaining integrity involved a continuous effort to preserve completeness of both oneself and one's nursing practice.

Study findings provide a theoretical conceptualization to describe the process nurses use in navigating boundaries and contribute to an understanding for how this specialized area of care impacts health care providers.

Practice Implications
Work environments can better address the challenges of navigating boundaries through offering resources and support for nurses' emotional responses to caring for seriously ill children. Future research can further refine and expand the theoretical conceptualization of maintaining integrity presented in this paper and its potential applicability to other nursing specialties.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Pediatric Nursing
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Boundaries
  • Grounded theory
  • Nurses
  • Nursing
  • Pediatric palliative care


  • Nursing
  • Medicine and Health Sciences

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