Minnesota Nursing magazine

Family stress in the ICU

Sandra HagstromSandra Hagstrom, PhD, APRN

The primary source of stress for mothers with a child in the intensive care unit and children at home was the constant pull between the hospital and home needs and stressors related to separation, according to research recently completed by Sandra Hagstrom, PhD, APRN, for her dissertation Family Stress in Long- Term Pediatric Critical Care. Hagstrom was a pre-doctoral fellow in the Center for Children with Special Health Care Needs whose research was informed by her expertise in pediatric critical care as an advanced practice nurse leader at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Although it is recognized that a child’s admission to the ICU is stressful, little is known about family stress after the initial days in the ICU. This mixed methods study described sources of stress for families whose children remained in the ICU for one week or longer and how stress sources changed over time.

The amount and types of baseline stress varied among families, and their perceptions of success managing previous stressful situations influenced their confidence in how they could effectively deal with the ICU experience. Participants described how stress built over time in the ICU but diminished as uncertainty about their child’s condition decreased. Hagstrom concludes that pediatric nurses need to identify the stressors families in the ICU are facing related to separation, the child’s acute illness, ongoing health care needs and effects on family roles and responsibilities in order to individualize care and best support each family.


Center for Children with Special Health Care Needs

Ann Garwick

Center Director: 
Ann Garwick, PhD, RN, LMFT, LP, FAAN

The center prepares pediatric nursing leaders to improve the quality of care and systems of care for children and youth with an added emphasis on those with special health care needs. Graduates are prepared for leadership roles in primary and specialty care of children and youth, the organization and delivery of health services, policy, research, education, and advocacy.

For more information:
Email: CSHCN@umn.edu