Barriers to intensive care unit nurses' autonomy in Iran: A qualitative study

Nurs Outlook. 2017 Jul-Aug;65(4):392-399. doi: 10.1016/j.outlook.2016.12.004. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


Background: The acute nature of the intensive care unit (ICU) environment necessitates that urgent clinical decisions are frequently made by the health care team. Therefore, it is important that critical care nurses have the authority to make decisions about their patient care.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore perceived barriers to the practice of professional autonomy from the perspectives of ICU nurses in Iran.

Methods: In this qualitative study, 28 critical care nurses were interviewed using a semistructured in-depth interview method. The interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using content analysis.

Discussion: Data analysis led to identification of two main themes and five subthemes: (a) the profession-related barriers with two associated subthemes of "lack of capacity to exercise autonomy" and "lack of strong professional bodies"; (b) organizational barriers with the associated subthemes of "role ambiguity," "a directive rather than supportive workplace," and "lack of motivation."

Conclusion: ICU nurses in Iran may face many challenges in gaining professional autonomy. The identified inter- and intraprofessional barriers to the exercise of autonomy need to be addressed to promote critical thinking, job satisfaction, and motivation of ICU nurses, which can in turn lead to improved patient outcomes.

Keywords: Content analysis; ICU; Nursing autonomy; Professionalism; Qualitative study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / standards
  • Iran
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Administrators / psychology*
  • Nurse's Role / psychology*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Professional Autonomy*
  • Professionalism*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Workplace / psychology*