Graduate School of Nursing Dissertations

Publication Date


Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Graduate School of Nursing

Dissertation Committee Chair

Elaine Parker


Nurses, Nursing Process, Professional Practice Attitude of Health Personnel, Interprofessional Relations, Safety Management

Subject Categories



Nurses have a key role in keeping patients safe from medical errors because they work at the point of care where most errors occur. Nursing work at the intersection of patients and health care systems requires high levels of cognitive activity to anticipate potential problems and effectively respond to rapidly evolving and potentially harmful situations. The literature describes nursing work at the intersection of patient and health care system as well as barriers to providing safe patient care. However, little is known about the systems knowledge nurses use to negotiate the health care system on their patients’ behalf, or how this systems information is exchanged between nurses.

Using the clinical microsystem as the conceptual framework, this qualitative descriptive investigation identified and described: 1) the components of systems knowledge needed by nurses, 2) how systems information is exchanged between nurses, and 3) systems information exchanged between staff nurses and travel nurses. Data were collected from a stratified maximum variation sample of 18 nurse leaders, staff nurses, and travel nurses working within a high-functioning neonatal intensive care nursery within a large academic medical center in New England. Data collection methods included participant observation, document review, individual interviews, and a focus group session. Data were analyzed through constant comparison for emerging themes and patterns. Findings were compared for commonalities and differences within and across groups.

Three components of systems knowledge emerged: structural, operational, and relational. Systems information exchange occurred through direct and indirect means. Direct means included formal and informal mechanisms. The formal mechanism of orientation was identified by each participant. Informal mechanisms such as peer teaching, problem solving, and modeling behaviors were identified by participants from each of the three nurse groups. Travel nurses’ descriptions of the common themes focused on individual efficacy. Staff nurses focused on fostering smooth unit functioning. Nurse leaders described common themes from a perspective of unit development. Four overarching domains of systems information were exchanged between staff nurses and travel nurses: practice patterns; staffing patterns and roles; tips, tricks, tidbits, and techniques; and environmental elements. Communication emerged as a common theme across nurse groups and domains of systems information exchanged. These findings have implications for nursing orientation and staff development, continuous improvement at the local level, and curriculum development.



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