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URMC / Clinical Ethics / Moral Distress


Moral Distress

Moral Distress defined

The term Moral Distress was first described by a nurse in 1980.  However, now it is recognized that all health care workers are at risk for experiencing moral distress, defined as the “psychological response to morally challenging situations such as those of moral constraint, moral conflict, or both" ( Fourie, 2015). The health care provider may feel anger, frustration, guilt, sadness and/or confusion. A person may also experience physical reactions, such as headache, sleeplessness, and nausea, among others. Research has shown that talking about the concerns in a supportive environment can help diminish moral distress.  Thus, ethics debriefings are available at SMH. 

Moral distress debriefing

Research has shown that discussing ethically troubling cases with the goal of increasing understanding and/or developing ethically sound responses can be helpful in mitigating the effects.  Debriefings that are interprofessional in nature are most helpful:  many points of view, values, and professional obligations are shared to help facilitate better understanding of a case . An ethicist or someone with solid background in clinical ethics can help facilitate a discussion. 

How to schedule an ethics moral distress debriefing:  Call the Division number 585-275-5800, or call the page office (275-5555) and ask for the Clinical Ethicist on call.  Be prepared to provide an overview of the case, the ethical question or concern, patient MR number, and name of the attending physician.