Nurses’ experiences of encountering undocumented migrants in Swedish emergency healthcare

Frida Gullberg (Nurse, based at Women's Clinic, Skane University Hospital, Malmoe, Sweden)
Monne Wihlborg (Associate Professor, based at Department of Health & Social Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Publication date: 9 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to investigate how nurses’ working in emergency health care in Sweden experience their encounter with undocumented migrants.


A total of 16 qualitative interviews were conducted and analyzed using a phenomenographic approach, aiming at describing various ways in which nurses experienced undocumentedness.


The process of assessment involves formal regulations as well as interpersonal features, leading to uncertainty, conflicts and dilemmas when judging such situations. Nurses’ conceptions concerned the undocumented migrants’ migrant status and social existence; second, conflicts in encountering undocumentedness pertaining to an identification systems and judgments and emotional reactions; and thrid, shifts within and between arbitrary boundaries, with unclear conditions for interaction and creative maneuvering.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed to develop guidelines or other structures to support nurses who deal with this kind of assessment in their daily work, to reduce ethical dilemmas and the risk of inequitable treatment.

Practical implications

Guidelines to support nurses need to be further debated and discussed and implemented in health care education, as well as in clinical contexts.

Social implications

Increased knowledge and awareness among nurses concerning migrants’ status and rights, might lead to better working conditions for nurses and thus more secure judgments.


Research with a specific focus on emergency nurses’ conceptions of undocumentedness and their strategies for handling the ensuing practical and ethical dilemmas has not been conducted in Sweden before using a qualitative method.



Gullberg, F. and Wihlborg, M. (2014), "Nurses’ experiences of encountering undocumented migrants in Swedish emergency healthcare", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 148-158.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below

You may be able to access this content by logging in via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.
If you think you should have access to this content, click the button to contact our support team.