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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Reconciling employment with caring for a husband with an advanced illness

Marjolein Gysels12* and Irene J Higginson1

Author Affiliations

1 King's College London, Department of Palliative Care Policy and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine, London, UK

2 Barcelona Centre for International Health Research (CRESIB), Barcelona, Spain

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:216  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-216

Published: 25 November 2009



Little is known about combining work with caring for a person with advanced illness. This is important given the increasing number of women in the workforce and current policy seeking to increase care in the community. The aim of this paper was to explore the meaning of work for women caring for a husband with an advanced illness and the consequences of combining these two roles.


A purposive sample of 15 carers was recruited from a hospital and from the community, via the patients they cared for. Their illnesses included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, motor neurone disease, and heart failure. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews that were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. A Grounded Theory approach was used and case studies were developed. NVivo software facilitated the management and analysis of the data.


Caring presented challenges to carers' work life. It diminished productivity or the quality of work, and led to missed opportunities for promotion. Work had an effect on the quality of care and the relationship with the patient, which eventually led to work being given up for caring. Three carers resisted the pressures to give up work and used it as a coping strategy.


A positive choice to remain in employment does not necessarily signal reluctance to care. Caring arrangements need to be understood from the common and separate interests of carers and the people they support.