If schools are closed, who will watch our kids? Family caregiving and other sources of role conflict among nurses during large-scale outbreaks

Prehosp Disaster Med. Jul-Aug 2009;24(4):321-5. doi: 10.1017/s1049023x00007044.


Objectives: The global impact of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) brought attention to the role of healthcare professionals as "first receivers" during infectious disease outbreaks, a collateral aspect to their role as responders. This article records and reports concerns expressed by Canadian emergency and critical care nurses in terms of organizational and social supports required during infectious disease outbreaks. The nature of work-family and family-work conflict perceived and experienced by nurses during infectious disease outbreaks, as well as the supports needed to enable them to balance their social roles during this type of heightened stress, are explored.

Methods: Five focus groups consisting of 100 nurses were conducted using a Structured Interview Matrix facilitation technique.

Results: Four emergent themes included: (1) substantial personal/professional dilemmas; (2) assistance with child, elder, and/or pet care; (3) adequate resources and vaccinations to protect families; and (4) appropriate mechanisms to enable two-way communication between employees and their families under conditions of quarantine or long work hours.

Conclusions: Social and organizational supports are critical to help buffer the effects of stress for nurses and assist them in managing difficult role conflicts during infectious disease outbreaks. These supports are necessary to improve response capacity for bio-disasters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Disaster Planning
  • Family Conflict*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Nurses*
  • Parenting*
  • Schools*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Work Schedule Tolerance*