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Resources for

Moral Distress

Moral Distress in Nursing: What You Need to Know

Moral distress is a complex and challenging experience that can have a significant negative impact on the healthcare team — from hindering our ability to advocate for patients to leaving our job or the profession.

Moral distress occurs when you believe you know — or you are uncertain of — the ethically correct action to take and you are constrained from taking it. What distinguishes moral distress from other forms of distress experienced by nurses is that it threatens our core values and has ethical implications. Symptoms of moral distress may be difficult to recognize. They may manifest as physical, emotional and/or psychological symptoms.

Common situations that can trigger moral distress include end-of-life treatment choices, inadequate staffing, value conflicts, challenging team dynamics and duty conflicting with safety concerns, among others. If you suspect you may be experiencing moral distress, it is important to identify, assess and address it, and seek assistance as needed.

AACN is committed to supporting nurses in managing moral distress and offers resources to help.

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Recognizing Moral Distress … and What to Do About It

There are four key components to addressing moral distress.

Determine What You Are Experiencing
Distinguish between moral distress, burnout and compassion fatigue. All three cause distress but involve different mitigation strategies.
Gauge the Severity of Your Distress
Familiarize yourself with common symptoms, and rate your distress from 1 to 10 to help you prioritize mitigation efforts.
Identify the Causes and Constraints
Recognize the situations and factors that contribute to your moral distress. Use this knowledge to guide your next steps.
Take Action to Help You Move Forward
Consider all options for addressing your moral distress. What resources do you have personally? What’s available in your unit or organization?

Key Resources

Managing moral distress requires an understanding of its causes, symptoms and solutions. Whether you are experiencing moral distress yourself or want to support someone who is, these featured resources from AACN can help.

Understanding Moral Distress: An Expert’s Perspective

One of the biggest challenges in overcoming moral distress is recognizing the condition in ourselves. Longtime critical care clinical nurse specialist Natalie Correll-Yoder, a national expert and frequent presenter on moral distress, helps nurses, other healthcare staff and organizations identify and address this challenging issue. Her video interview offers guidance for nurses grappling with moral distress. Topics include:

What Is Moral Distress? | Effects of Moral Distress | Support for Moral Distress | Importance of Self-Care

Additional Resources

Explore AACN’s full collection of resources for recognizing, evaluating and overcoming moral distress. This compilation includes journal articles, webinars, recorded conference sessions and other materials to support you and your colleagues in resolving moral challenges.

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