Intensive care unit nurses’ perceptions of debriefing after critical incidents: A qualitative descriptive study

Kristie Berchtenbreiter (Leading Author), Kelli Innes (Leading Author), Jason Watterson, Christopher Peter Nickson, Pauline Wong (Leading Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses are exposed to critical incidents daily at their workplace, which may have long-term physical and psychological impacts. Despite the growing evidence supporting clinical debriefing in health care to prevent these impacts, a scarcity of literature exists to support its use in the adult intensive care setting. Objectives: The objective of this study was to explore nurses’ perceptions of clinical debriefing after critical incidents in an adult ICU. Methods: A qualitative descriptive design was utilised. Thematic analysis of data from individual semistructured interviews with six ICU nurses was undertaken. Findings: In this study, two themes were identified. Firstly, participants valued hot debriefing after critical incidents for the key reasons of having an opportunity to reflect on and learn from a critical incident and reduce normalisation of stressful situations. Secondly, when logistical factors such as communication, timing, and location were not considered, the attendance at debriefings was negatively influenced. Participants identified that ICU nurses commonly prioritised patient tasks over attending a debrief; therefore, teamwork and flexibility with logistics was crucial. Conclusions: Hot debriefing, of a short duration and close to the time of the event, was valued and played an important role in staff wellbeing and self-care, contributing to preventing self-blame and normalisation of stressful situations. A clearer definition of the term along with greater recognition of types of events that could be considered critical incidents is required for staff support after critical incidents in the complex intensive care setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-294
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Critical Care
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Clinical debriefing
  • Crisis intervention
  • Critical care nursing
  • Critical incident stress debriefing
  • Hot debriefing
  • Intensive care units
  • Occupational stress
  • Reflection

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