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Keywords:

  • coping;
  • ethics;
  • intensive care;
  • medical futility;
  • moral distress;
  • professional burnout

Aims and objectives

To examine the level and frequency of moral distress in staff nurses working in two types of units in an acute care hospital and to gather information for future interventions addressing moral distress.

Background

In 2008, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses published a Position Statement on Moral Distress. Nurses working in units where critically ill patients are admitted may encounter distressing situations. Moral distress is the painful feelings and/or psychological disequilibrium that may occur when taking care of patients.

Design

An exploratory, descriptive design study was used to identify the type and frequency of moral distress experienced by nurses. The setting was an acute care hospital in which the subjects were sampled from two groups of nurses based on their unit assignment.

Methods

A descriptive, questionnaire study was used. Nurses completed the 38-item moral distress scale, a coping questionnaire, and indicated their preferred methods for institutional support in managing distressing situations. A convenience sample of staff nurses was approached to complete the moral distress questionnaire.

Results

Overall, the nurses reported low levels of moral distress. Situations creating the highest levels of moral distress were those related to futile care. A significance between group differences was found in the physician practice dimension. Specific resources were identified to help guide future interventions to recognise and manage moral distress.

Conclusion

Nurses reported lower levels and frequency of moral distress in these units but their open-ended responses appeared to indicate moral distress. Nurses identified specific resources that they would find helpful to alleviate moral distress.

Relevance to clinical practice

There are numerous studies that identify the situations and the impact of moral distress, but not many studies explore treatments and interventions for moral distress. This study attempted to identify nurse preferences for lessening the impact of moral distress.