Moral distress is a complex and challenging problem 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. During a crisis or disaster, the frequency and severity of moral distress increase. Acknowledging and addressing moral distress is essential to preserving our integrity.
Moral distress occurs when you know the ethically correct action to take but you are constrained from taking it. Whether stemming from internal or external factors, moral distress profoundly threatens our core values. It is distinct from other forms of distress experienced by nurses, such as burnout and compassion fatigue, and is especially prevalent among nurses caring for critically ill patients.
One of the key difficulties in addressing moral distress is first recognizing it. It may be experienced in the form of physical, emotional and/or psychological symptoms, including headaches, palpitations, gastric upset, anger, guilt, frustration, withdrawal and depression.
The causes of moral distress vary among individuals. Common triggers include end-of-life care, 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 to seek assistance in working through it. AACN is committed to supporting nurses with moral distress and offers resources to help.
There are four key components to addressing moral distress.
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 | The Importance of Self-Care
There's still a lack of recognition of what moral distress is. A lot of times nurses are feeling these symptoms or emotions, and they don't know what it is. They can't put a name to it.Natalie Correll-Yoder, MN, RN, CCRN, CCNS
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.
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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