- Moral distress is the experience of knowing the right action to take but being unable to take it. It is especially prevalent in the healthcare profession, where professionals’ actions are limited by the wishes of patients and their families, hierarchies, and organizational failings. Since it is accepted that healthcare professionals do experience moral distress, it is necessary to understand the effects of moral distress on healthcare professionals as well as their patients and to identify ways to prevent or resolve moral distress. These topics are explored through a review of recent literature and through conversations with current healthcare professionals. Moral distress clearly affects healthcare professionals emotionally, psychologically, and physically, although it is unclear how much it impacts patient care. The most likely effect of moral distress on patients is a level of emotional disconnect between healthcare professionals and their patients. Preventing moral distress would be difficult, but it can be addressed through ethics consults or culture adjustments, or by emulating organizations with low levels of moral distress.
Key Words: moral distress, medicine, nursing, healthcare, ethics