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Double-duty care-giving: Nurses’ Unpaid Family Work

The authors of the current ANS featured article examine the phenomenon of nurses’ unpaid family work – a growing trend in the face of inadequate health care resources.  In other professions, unpaid professional services are considered “pro bono”  professional service to the community.  But for nurses, their unpaid work in families is invisible and unrecognized, and as the authors indicate, this unpaid work has implications for nurses’ paid work as well.   The article, titled “Professionalizing Familial Care: Examining Nurses’ Unpaid Family Care Work” by Oona St-Amant, MScN, RN; Catherine Ward-Griffin, PhD, RN; Judith Belle Brown, PhD; Anne Martin-Matthews, PhD; Nisha Sutherland, MScN, RN; Janice Keefe, PhD; and Michael S. Kerr, PhD is a report of a grounded theory study based on interviews with 32 nurses over a 6 to 12 month period.  The lead author, Oona St-Amant shared this background about their work:

As co-authors, we are delighted that our work has been selected to be featured in this current issue of ANS. Our article entitled “Professionalizing Familial Care: Examining Nurses’ Unpaid Family Care Work” builds on a body of work which st-amant250investigates the experience of double duty caregiving (DDC), that is, the provision of care to an older relative by a health care professional. At the helm of this work is Dr. Catherine Ward-Griffin who has built a program of research on the negotiation of care boundaries between and among health care providers, older adults and family caregivers. Several of the co-authors such as Drs. Brown, Keefe, Martin-Matthews and Kerr have been actively involved in several studies in developing this work.

As lead author, I have been extremely fortunate to complete my doctoral studies under the supervision of Dr. Ward-Griffin and commence a program of research centered on various forms of unpaid care work, including family caregiving, double duty caregiving and international volunteer health work in a variety of contexts. In this article, we shed light on nurses’ unpaid family care work. Unlike when other professionals employ their paid skills and employment resources in an unpaid fashion, nursing unpaid care work is not characteristically valued as “pro bono” (for public good), even when the transfer of skills is similar. Instead, akin to other forms of unpaid family care work, double duty caregiving tends to be invisible work. And yet, approximately 35-40% of nurses over 35 years of age engage in this work, and this figure is expected to increase with an aging population.

In this article, we examine the specific strategies that contribute to the professionalization of care work in familial domain. Additionally, we explore some of the implications of professionalizing family care. In response to this evolving body of work, the research team in collaboration with multiple project collaborators developed a policy brief with explicit recommendations for action. Specifically, the policy brief sets out five recommendations at various levels of policy including 1) employers/health care agencies; 2) health care administrators, human resource managers, researchers, policy makers; 3) employers/health care administrators; 4) national, provincial and territorial professional health associations; and 5) governmental officials, employers, and union representatives.  You can download the DDC Policy Brief here.

We welcome your responses and comments on this article!  Visit the ANS web site to download a copy of this article at no charge, then return here to share your ideas!

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