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Ethical challenges in the care of older people and risk of being burned out among male nurses


  • Ann Nordam RNT,

  • Kirsti Torjuul RNT,

  • Venke Sørlie PhD, RNT

Venke Sørlie
Associate Professor
Institute of Nursing and Health Sciences
Faculty of Medicine
University of Oslo
P.O.B 1153 Blindern
N-0318 Olso
Telephone: +47 22850579


Aim.  The aim of this study was to illuminate the meaning of being in ethically difficult situations when caring for older people, as experienced by male nurses.

Background.  Nurses and physicians are frequently faced with ethical issues and challenges in their work with older people in hospitals. Male nurses are a minority group in the nursing profession, thus it is important to listen to their lived experiences of the ethical challenges they are faced with in their work.

Method.  The study is part of a comprehensive investigation into the narratives of female and male physicians and nurses, concerning their experiences of being in ethically difficult care situations in the care of older people. Five male nurses working at gerontology wards at a university hospital in Norway participated in the study. A phenomenological hermeneutical method was applied.

Results.  The narratives revealed that the nurses were focusing on good nursing, emphasizing what meeting the patient entails. They highlighted what they perceived as barriers to good nursing. A third theme was ethical challenges, which lead to emotional and moral strain and a fear of becoming burned out.

Conclusions.  Continuous stress, little degree of autonomy and high expectations of oneself are causing the male nurses much moral strain. These factors place them at risk of being burned out. The nurses emphasized that burn out can be counteracted by clinical supervision.

Relevance to clinical practice.  It is suggested that the male nurses feeling of doing an important and rewarding job may be essential for protection against becoming burned out and why they can endure being in ethically difficult care situations. Other institutional support structures like ethics education and ethics rounds are suggested to reduce the level of moral strain.

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