Moral distress in emergency nurses

J Emerg Nurs. 2013 Nov;39(6):547-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2012.12.009. Epub 2013 Feb 12.


Introduction: For nurses, moral distress leads to burnout, attrition, compassion fatigue, and patient avoidance.

Methods: Using a quantitative, cross-sectional, and descriptive design, we assessed the frequency, intensity, and type of moral distress in 51 emergency nurses in 1 community hospital using a 21-item, self-report, Likert-type questionnaire.

Results: Results showed a total mean moral distress level of 3.18, indicative of overall low moral distress.

Discussion: Situations with the highest levels of moral distress were related to the competency of health care providers and following family wishes to continue life support, also known as futile care. Moral distress was the reason given by 6.6% of registered nurses for leaving a previous position, 20% said that they had considered leaving a position but did not, and 13.3% stated that they are currently considering leaving their position because of moral distress.

Keywords: Burnout; Emergency nurses; Ethical dilemmas; Moral distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Nursing / ethics
  • Emergency Nursing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / ethics
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires