The Role of Self-Care in Clinical Ethics Consultation: Clinical Ethicists’ Risk for Burnout, Potential Harms, and What Ethicists Can Do


Janice Firn and Thomas O’Neil


Clinical ethics consultants are inevitably called to participate in and bear witness to emotionally challenging cases. With the move toward the professionalization of ethics consultants, the responsibility to respond to and address difficult ethical dilemmas is likely to fall to a small set of people or a single clinical ethicist. Combined with time constraints, the urgent nature of these cases, and the moral distress of clinicians and staff encountered during consultation, like other healthcare professionals such as physicians and nurses, clinical ethics consultants could risk burnout. If it is true that clinical ethicists are at risk for burnout, an important strategy to avoid burnout is to develop sound self-care practices. This article reviews the goals and skills of ethics consultation and the role-specific reasons that clinical ethicists may be at risk for burnout, and argues that clinical ethicists may need to engage in self-care practices. Strategies to address burnout are reviewed and opportunities for future research are identified.




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