Moral distress perspectives among interprofessional intensive care unit team members

Heather Vincent, Deborah J. Jones, Joan Engebretson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Aim: To examine interprofessional healthcare professionals’ perceptions of triggers and root causes of moral distress. Design: Qualitative description of open-text comments written on the Moral Distress Scale–Revised survey. Methods: A subset of interprofessional providers from a parent study provided open-text comments that originated from four areas of the Moral Distress Scale–Revised, including the margins of the 21-item questionnaire, the designated open-text section, shared perceptions of team communication and dynamics affecting moral distress, and the section addressing an intent to leave a clinical position because of moral distress. Open-text comments were captured, coded, and divided into meaning units and themes using systematic text condensation. Participants: Twenty-eight of the 223 parent study participants completing the Moral Distress Scale–Revised shared comments on situations contributing to moral distress. Results: All 28 participants working in the four medical center intensive care units reported feelings of moral distress. Feelings of moral distress were associated with professional anguish over patient care decisions, team, and system-level factors. Professional-level contributors reflected clinician concerns of continuing life support measures perceived not in the patient’s best interest. Team and unit-level factors were related to poor communication, bullying, and a lack of collegial collaboration. System-level factors included clinicians feeling unsupported by senior administration and institutional culpability as a result of healthcare processes and system constraints impeding reliable patient care delivery. Ethical considerations: Approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the University of Texas Health IRB and the organization in which the study was conducted. Conclusion: Moral distress was associated with feelings of anguish, professional intimidation, and organizational factors that impacted the delivery of ethically based patient care. Participants expressed a sense of awareness that they may experience ethical dilemmas as a consequence of the changing reality of providing healthcare within complex healthcare systems. Strategies to combat moral distress should target team and system interventions designed to improve interprofessional collaboration and support professional ethical values and moral commitments of all healthcare providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1450-1460
Number of pages11
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Futile care
  • intensive care
  • moral distress
  • professional ethics
  • professional perspectives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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