Harnessing the Promise of Moral Distress: A Call for Re-Orientation


Alisa Carse and Cynda Hylton Rushton


    Despite over three decades of research into the sources and costs of what has become an “epidemic” of moral distress among healthcare professionals, spanning many clinical disciplines and roles, there has been little significant progress in effectively addressing moral distress. We believe the persistent sense of frustration, helplessness, and despair still dominating the clinical moral distress narrative signals a need for re-orientation in the way moral distress is understood and worked with. Most fundamentally, moral distress reveals moral investment and energy. It is the troubled call of conscience, an expression of fidelity to moral commitments seen as imperiled or compromised.

      It is crucial that we find ways to empower clinicians in heeding this call—to support clinicians’ moral agency and voice, foster their moral resilience, and facilitate their ability to contribute to needed reform within the organizations and systems in which they work. These objectives must inform creative expansion in the design of strategies for addressing moral distress in the day-to-day of clinical practice. We include suggestions about promising directions such strategies might take in the hope of spurring further innovation within clinical environments.


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