What do emergency department physicians and nurses feel? A qualitative study of emotions, triggers, regulation strategies, and effects on patient care

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Emergency Medicine | Psychiatry and Psychology


BACKGROUND: Despite calls to study how healthcare providers' emotions may impact patient safety, little research has addressed this topic. The current study aimed to develop a comprehensive understanding of emergency department (ED) providers' emotional experiences, including what triggers their emotions, the perceived effects of emotions on clinical decision making and patient care, and strategies providers use to manage their emotions to reduce patient safety risks.

METHODS: Employing grounded theory, we conducted 86 semi-structured qualitative interviews with experienced ED providers (45 physicians and 41 nurses) from four academic medical centres and four community hospitals in the Northeastern USA. Constant comparative analysis was used to develop a grounded model of provider emotions and patient safety in the ED.

RESULTS: ED providers reported experiencing a wide range of emotions in response to patient, hospital, and system-level factors. Patients triggered both positive and negative emotions; hospital and system-level factors largely triggered negative emotions. Providers expressed awareness of possible adverse effects of negative emotions on clinical decision making, highlighting concerns about patient safety. Providers described strategies they employ to regulate their emotions, including emotional suppression, distraction, and cognitive reappraisal. Many providers believed that these strategies effectively guarded against the risk of emotions negatively influencing their clinical decision making.

CONCLUSION: The role of emotions in patient safety is in its early stages and many opportunities exist for researchers, educators, and clinicians to further address this important issue. Our findings highlight the need for future work to (1) determine whether providers' emotion regulation strategies are effective at mitigating patient safety risk, (2) incorporate emotional intelligence training into healthcare education, and (3) shift the cultural norms in medicine to support meaningful discourse around emotions. permissions.


diagnostic errors, emergency department, patient safety, qualitative research

DOI of Published Version



BMJ Qual Saf. 2020 Jan 15. pii: bmjqs-2019-010179. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2019-010179. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

BMJ quality and safety

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID