Objective: The extended role of pharmacists has made pharmacy practice more complex and increased the moral responsibility of pharmacy staff. Consequently, ethics has become an important part of their daily work. In health care, ethical dilemmas have been shown to cause distress, usually referred to as "moral distress". Moral distress among hospital personnel has been well described and discussed in numerous studies. There are very few similar studies in pharmacy settings. This article reports on the results of an investigation concerning whether and in what situations moral distress is present in pharmacy practice.
Method: A questionnaire derived from focus group data, covering ethically troubling situations in pharmacy settings, was distributed to all staff of three pharmacies in Sweden.
Results: The results show that moral distress is experienced in the day-to-day pharmacy practice, and that it is in many ways connected to care providing. For example, prioritizing between customers was reported as very stressful. Younger personnel reported higher moral distress than their older colleagues did. However, there were no differences between pharmacies. A lack of support structures, such as meetings where ethical issues can be discussed, was reported by all the participating pharmacies.
Conclusion: It is reasonable to assume that moral distress is even more present in pharmacy practice than in other health care areas as it is, in general, much more sensitive and exposed to the modern, demanding customer. The meeting with the customer is on a more neutral ground than in, for example, a hospital setting. Although there are ethical codes for pharmacists, they are not enough. Moral distress is experienced anyway; general codes and personal coping strategies must be supplemented with support from the management and work organization. There is a need to look more closely at specific factors related to the degree and extension of moral distress, going beyond individual coping strategies.