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Background An estimated 30–50% of patients admitted to acute medical care settings experience co-morbid physical and mental illness. Research suggests that health professionals in these settings find managing this patient group challenging. A number of studies have investigated health professional’s attitudes and perceptions however there is limited research that investigates the lived experience in a current Australian healthcare context. The aim of this study was to explicate an in-depth description of the health professional’s experience when caring for patients experiencing co-morbid physical and mental illness in Australian acute medical care settings. Methods A phenomenological design was undertaken with six participants representing nursing and medical disciplines. In 2013–2014 one-on-one semi-structured interviews were used and the data collected underwent thematic analysis using an extended version of Colaizzi’s phenomenological inquiry. Results Six themes emerged including—challenging behaviours, environmental and organisational factors, lack of skills, knowledge and experience, hyper-vigilance and anxiety, duty of care and negative attitudes with an overarching theme of fear of the unknown. Conclusions Staff in acute medical care settings were unsure of patients with mental illness and described them as unpredictable, identifying that they lacked requisite mental health literacy. Regular training is advocated.

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access

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Nursing Commons