The Nurse’s Dilemma – Dealing with Moral Distress

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, have you felt something more than the traditional burnout? Have you felt something that goes beyond exhaustion and fatigue, something that has shaken your core character or ethical center? You may be under moral distress.

Moral distress is a challenging issue faced by health care professionals globally. Nurses can experience many forms of workplace fatigue or distress, but moral distress is different than other forms, such as burnout or loss of compassion.

Moral distress is present in the health care setting when you feel you know the ethically sound action or decision but are limited in your actions by factors out of your control. This internal unease is caused by the threatening of your core values and intuition, which are heavily relied on in a caregiving profession.

The external cause may vary by person, but common triggers include end-of-life care, inadequate staffing, value conflicts, poor team dynamics and safety concerns. Moral distress is more common in nurses caring for critically ill patients who may be faced with tough decisions or intensive procedures.

The first step in addressing these difficulties is recognizing moral distress as the root of your feelings and emotions, and as a separate sensation from professional burnout or fatigue. Moral distress can take a mental and physical toll on your body, with symptoms like headaches, heart palpitations, gastric upset, guilt, frustration, anxiety or depression.

If you feel you are experiencing moral distress, the next step is talking to someone who can help. Talking to your supervisor or consulting your employee assistance plan is a great way to see change in your environment.

UofL Health recognizes the prevalence of moral distress among nurses and health care professionals and is working to ensure team members voices are heard. UofL Health – Peace Hospital offers mental health services that may be able to help, visit Peace Hospital’s website for more information.

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Martha S Mather, CEO

Martha Mather is the chief executive officer at UofL Health – Peace Hospital. Martha is passionate about behavioral health and Peace Hospital. Her favorite thing about UofL Health is being part of an academic health care system. The work being done at Peace Hospital is essential to our community.

All posts by Martha S Mather, CEO
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