Background: More than 200,000 children are admitted annually to Pediatric Intensive Care Units (PICUs) in the US. Research has shown young children can provide insight into their hospitalization experiences; child reports rather than parental reports are critical to understanding the child’s experience. Information relating to children’s perceptions while still in the PICU is scarce.

Aims: The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate school age children’s and adolescents’ perceptions of PICU while in the PICU; changes in perceptions after transfer to the General Care Unit (GCU); differences in perceptions of school age children/adolescents and those with more invasive procedures.

Methods: Interviews were conducted in PICU within 24-48 hours of admission and 24-48 hours after transfer to GCU. Data on demographics, clinical care and number/types of procedures were obtained.

Results: Participants were 7 school age children, 13 adolescents; 10 Hispanic; 13 males. Five overarching themes: Coping Strategies, Environmental Factors, Stressors, Procedures/Medications, and Information. Children emphasized the importance of peer support and visitation; adolescents relied strongly on social media and texting. Parent visits sometimes were more stressful than peer visits. Video games, TV, visitors, and eating were diversional activities. In the PICU, they wanted windows to see outside and interesting things to see on the ceiling above them. Children expressed anticipatory fear of shots and procedures, frustration with lab work, and overwhelming PICU equipment. Number of child responses was higher in PICU (927) than GCU (593); the largest difference was in Environmental Factors. Variations between school age children and adolescents were primarily in Coping Strategies, especially in social support. Number of GCU procedures were the same (8 children) or greater (2 children) than PICU procedures.

Discussion: Admission to PICU is a very stressful event. Perceptions from children while still in PICU found information not previously found in the literature. Longitudinal studies to identify children’s perceptions regarding PICU hospitalization and post-discharge outcomes are needed.

Publication Date


Presented At:

Florida International University: A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in NURSING by Andrea S. Prentiss

Content Type



Study Setting: Baptist Children's Hospital

Open Access

Available to all.