Oncology nurses' knowledge, attitudes, and experiences regarding advance directives

Oncol Nurs Forum. 2005 Mar 5;32(2):319-27. doi: 10.1188/05.onf.319-327.


Purpose/objectives: To determine oncology nurses' knowledge of, attitudes toward, and experiences with advance directives (ADs).

Design: Descriptive, correlation survey.

Sample: Usable responses from 794 (21% return) of 3,840 randomly selected members of the Oncology Nursing Society. The typical respondent was female, Caucasian, married or living as married, middle-aged, and Christian.

Methods: A mailed survey using the Knowledge, Attitudinal, and Experiential Survey on Advance Directives instrument.

Main research variables: Knowledge, attitudes, experiences, confidence, and ADs.

Findings: Overall, oncology nurses were most knowledgeable about ADs in general (70% correct) and less knowledgeable about the Patient Self-Determination Act (51% correct) and their state laws (53% correct). The mean total knowledge score based on the three subscales was 17.4 out of a possible 30, or 58% correct. The nurses' experience with ADs was measured using a five-item subscale with a mean score of 4 (SD = 1.11). They were less confident in their ability to assist patients with completing ADs. Respondent attitudes reflected an advocacy role in end-of-life decisions. Attitude items were reviewed individually. Respondents strongly agreed (97%) with the statement that patients should receive sufficient medication to relieve pain even though it may hasten death, which reflects the emphasis in oncology on adequate pain management at the end of life.

Conclusions: Nurses' knowledge scores were low. Nurses in the study were not highly confident in their ability to assist patients with ADs. Demographic variables generally did not influence knowledge, confidence, or experience scores.

Implications for nursing: More education related to ADs is needed and could be administered through in-service classes or continuing education. Nurses' responses indicated that they need more time to assist patients with completing ADs. This is difficult in the current practice environment but must be recognized as critically important.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Directives*
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oncology Nursing*