Until you go through it: exploring female health care providers' lived experience with serious chronic illness

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Irvine, Leslie
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Diagnosis with a serious chronic illness is a powerful lived experience that touches all aspects of the individual’s life and which necessitates great adaptation across the lifespan. Ambiguity is a lived dimension of illness that is often expressed in illness stories, capturing the new state between health and illness which has also been described as a ‘liminal’ or in-between state of being (Little, Jordens, Paul, Montgomery & Philipson, 1998). Health care providers hold socially prescribed roles in which they are expected to be professionally competent and immune to personal illness. The lived experiences of health care providers who have been diagnosed with serious chronic illness were explored in this study to better attempt to describe the phenomenon. Six health care providers from various professional backgrounds participated in the research. A semi-structured interview guided the conversation between the researcher and the participant. The participants were encouraged to tell the story of what has happened to them and to reflect on the impact to their lives and practice. Participants were also asked to reflect on their perceived level of support and preparedness via their professional training, and to share any recommendations they might have for others going through this experience. The data gathered were found to be rich in both depth and detail. The data were analyzed using van Manen’s interpretive phenomenological method. Significant statements created formulated meanings or categories, which became organized around eight themes. The themes formed several clusters. The theme clusters were then developed into a recognizable pattern of sub-themes which helped to further 7 describe the essence of the experience of health care providers living with serious, chronic illness. The findings of the research were found to be consistent with the literature that describes the lived experience of seriously ill health care providers as liminal in essence. Based on the research findings recommendations for social work practice, administration and policy, educational training reform and future research were outlined.
chronic illness, health care workers, social work, liminality