Date of Award


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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Nursing




Problem: Millennial nurses are the largest portion of the profession reporting burnout and compassion fatigue. The millennial generation was impacted by the explosion of technology in the late twentieth century. Constant technological stimulation heavily impacted developmental milestones. Early adolescence is a critical time for the abstract development of empathy and compassion. The millennial generation communicates through technology while performing more than one task in a short amount of time, known as multi-tasking. With less time spent at the bedside due to increases in administrative tasks, deficits in the development of empathy and expression of compassion may impact the development of transpersonal caring relationships. Barriers to forming transpersonal caring relationships with patients may affect millennial nurses’ satisfaction with the nursing profession. Currently, there is a lack of research studies about how millennial nurses connect with their patients.

Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and identify what connecting with patients means to millennial nurses through their lived experiences. In addition, this researcher identified potential educational needs of millennial nurses in communicating empathy and compassion with patients. Practical implications of this research may include changes in the education of nurses by professional staff development specialists, improved patient care, earlier detection of changes in a patient’s condition, improved patient satisfaction and improved retention of nursing staff. Instruction and guidance on how to empathize and communicate compassion to vulnerable patients may be needed.

Background: A healthcare crisis is imminent as a significant number of nurses are approaching retirement and fewer nurses are remaining at the hospital bedside. Millennial nurses represent the future of the nursing profession. The caring values that represent the moral commitment of the nursing profession may be neglected due to increasing patient acuity and administrative tasks. This creates obstacles for developing transpersonal caring relationships between nurses and patients. Nurses need to identify how to create caring connections that can occur in a short amount of time. When the nurse has less time to spend with a patient, each interaction is critical to making a connection. It is within those moments when nurses connect with patients that they become fulfilled. Without it, the physical and mental demands may lead to burnout. Burnout is the psychological exhaustion and diminished efficiency that results from prolonged stress. The purpose of this research project involves exploring how millennial registered nurses form transpersonal caring relationships with patients in an environment of high acuity, technology and increased demands on their time.

Theoretical Framework: The foundation for the theoretical framework for connecting with patients is based on Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring. Transpersonal caring relationships are a guide for interacting and developing meaningful relationships with patients. Nurses must have the interpersonal skill set to communicate empathy and compassion to patients to engage in a transpersonal caring relationship.

Research Question: The research question was: What is the experience of millennial nurses connecting with patients in the 21st century? This question needs to be explored to extract rich data from millennial nurses on their experiences forming transpersonal caring relationships with patients. With knowledge of what challenges may inhibit the formation of these relationships, educational interventions can be designed.

Methodology: A qualitative, phenomenological method was chosen to explore the experience of millennial nurses forming transpersonal caring relationships with patients. This study utilized the hermeneutic phenomenological design of Martin Heidegger. Data was obtained from face-to-face interviews and field notes. Transcripts were read several times to obtain an overall feeling for them. The researcher dwelled with the data to identify significant phrases and formulated meanings that were clustered into common themes. Twelve participants validated the findings in the final description. Purposeful sampling of 12 millennial nurses working in New York City or Long Island, New York with at least two years’ experience working in a hospital were recruited for this study. Each participant self-identified as a millennial. Participants were sought out from different hospitals, units, genders and ethnic backgrounds.

Findings: Eight themes emerged in the analysis of the data collected. The themes that emerged were (1) The Void: Into the Darkness; (2) Unconnected: Unable to Find the Light; (3) Uncomfortable: Patients as Strangers; (4) Art of Caring: Not a Priority; (5) Becoming: Real RN; (6) Fulfillment: Receiving through Giving; (7) Enlightenment: Turning on the Light; and (8) Guidance: Educational Needs. The themes shed light on the phenomenon of how millennial nurses connect with patients in the 21st century in their own voices. These themes describe the complexities of forming transpersonal caring relationships with patients from a generation of nurses who have self-identified as millennial nurses. These eight themes represent the experience of millennial nurses forming transpersonal caring relationships with the patients they care for. All themes can be differentiated from one another, but collectively they stand together as one voice for the phenomenon of how millennial nurses in this study connect with their patients.

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