What is ‘moral distress’ in nursing and how should we respond to it?


  • Dr Georgina Morley

    University of Birmingham

Project summary

I will explore the concept of moral distress among nurses in the UK and how it might be prevented and managed. This will be done in several stages using various methodologies and empirical and philosophical methods to explore experiences of moral distress and its meaning in the healthcare context. In medical ethics, moral distress is examined in a philosophical light, whereas the nursing literature takes a practical stance. Both these bodies of literature will be used to formulate a working definition of moral distress. The overarching methodology will be drawn from 'reflexive balancing', in which the ethical analysis of how we ought to conceptualise and respond to moral distress is guided and supported by interdisciplinary engagement with empirical findings.

Nurses will be interviewed about their experiences and understanding of moral distress, and the interviews will be analysed and the common themes will contribute to a refined definition of moral distress. I will then turn to what we should do to reduce moral distress among nurses. 

Recommendations for future nursing practice will be made along with suggestions for ways to recognise and respond to moral distress.