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A quarter of nurses and social workers report experiencing moral distress that makes them want to leave their current positions, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. In a survey of 1,215 nurses and social workers from California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio, almost two-thirds of respondents said they face ethical issues over which they have no control. Issues that cause moral distress revolve around protecting patients' rights, supporting them through end-of-life decisions, and fairly distributing resources. Nurses report feeling distress when they can't balance these and other factors with a hospital's bottom line.

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Nurses also reported inadequate institutional support for handling ethical decisions and a perception of little respect for their profession. Only 58% of respondents reported that "my profession and physicians respect each other."


Researchers suggest that facilities invest in ethics resources and work to establish a climate of respect for the contributions of nurses and social workers in ethical decision making to help improve job satisfaction and reduce turnover.


Source: Ulrich C, et al., Ethical climate, ethics stress, and the job satisfaction of nurses and social workers in the United States, Social Science and Medicine, October 2007.