Psychological support in end-of-life decision-making in neonatal intensive care units: Full population survey among neonatologists and neonatal nurses.


Authors: Laure Dombrecht, Joachim Cohen, Filip Cools, Luc Deliens, Linde Goossens, Gunnar Naulaers, Kim Beernaert, Kenneth Chambaere,

Palliative medicine (2019)


Moral distress and burnout related to end-of-life decisions in neonates is common in neonatologists and nurses working in neonatal intensive care units. Attention to their emotional burden and psychological support in research is lacking.


To evaluate perceived psychological support in relation to end-of-life decisions of neonatologists and nurses working in Flemish neonatal intensive care units and to analyse whether or not this support is sufficient.


A self-administered questionnaire was sent to all neonatologists and neonatal nurses of all eight Flemish neonatal intensive care units (Belgium) in May 2017. The response rate was 63% (52/83) for neonatologists and 46% (250/527) for nurses. Respondents indicated their level of agreement (5-point Likert-type scale) with seven statements regarding psychological support.


About 70% of neonatologists and nurses reported experiencing more stress than normal when confronted with an end-of-life decision; 86% of neonatologists feel supported by their colleagues when they make end-of-life decisions, 45% of nurses feel that the treating physician listens to their opinion when end-of-life decisions are made. About 60% of both neonatologists and nurses would like more psychological support offered by their department when confronted with end-of-life decisions, and 41% of neonatologists and 50% of nurses stated they did not have enough psychological support from their department when a patient died. Demographic groups did not differ in terms of perceived lack of sufficient support.


Even though neonatal intensive care unit colleagues generally support each other in difficult end-of-life decisions, the psychological support provided by their department is currently not sufficient. Professional ad hoc counselling or standard debriefings could substantially improve this perceived lack of support.

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