Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Eric M. Eisenberg, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Lori Roscoe, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ambar Basu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

B. Lee Green, Ph.D.


Triage sensemaking, emergency medicine triage, patient storytelling, Erving Goffman, Larry Browning


This dissertation presents a comprehensive qualitative study of the decision-making aspects of emergency department (ED) triage at a large urban Trauma I hospital in the Southeast. Specifically, this study addresses the following research questions: (1) What do triage nurses perceive as the primary role of the triage process? (2) How do triage nurses interpret patient performances? These questions are explored through illuminating the intricacies of triage decision-making by the use of semi-structured interviews and observations.

The findings of this study indicate: (1) a better understanding of the triage decision- making process yielding more practical insights related to the informal, emergent, and often improvisational ways patients are received, categorized, and treated was needed, and (2) providing a clearer understanding of the processes involved in sorting patients may provide much-needed insight regarding clinical concerns and/or issues regarding patient categorization, adverse clinical events, and excessive patient wait times. These findings are of particular importance due to the widespread overuse of EDs for nonemergent care. Essentially, EDs are designed for patients to visit due to an alteration in their physical and/or mental state. Once a patient enters the ED, a medical professional is tasked with the responsibility of interpreting the physical and/or mental state of the patient, which is generally achieved by interpreting the patient story - the precipitating event that brought them into the ED. What this study contributes to the literature is a deeper understanding of the communicative processes that ED triage nurses leverage to make sense of patient stories.