Intensive care, Moral distress, Self-efficacy



  1. Pavlish, Carol L. PhD
  2. Brown-Saltzman, Katherine MA
  3. Robinson, Ellen M. PhD
  4. Henriksen, Joan PhD
  5. Warda, Umme Shefa MS
  6. Farra, Christopher MS
  7. Chen, Belinda MPH
  8. Jakel, Patricia MSN


Background: Moral dilemmas and ethical conflicts occur in critical care. Negative consequences include misunderstandings, mistrust, patient and family suffering, clinician moral distress, and patient safety concerns. Providing an opportunity for team-based ethics assessments and planning could improve communication and reduce moral distress.


Objectives: The aims of this study were to explore whether an early action ethics intervention affects intensive care unit (ICU) clinicians' moral distress, ethics self-efficacy, and perceptions of hospital climate and to compare nurses' and physicians' scores on moral distress, ethics self-efficacy, and ethical climate at 3 time points.


Methods: Intensive care unit nurses and physicians were asked to complete surveys on moral distress, ethics self-efficacy, and ethical climate before implementing the ethics protocol in 6 ICUs. We measured responses to the same 3 surveys at 3 and 6 months after the protocol was used.


Results: At baseline, nurses scored significantly higher than physicians in moral distress and significantly lower in ethics self-efficacy. Plot graphs revealed that nurses' and physicians' outcome scores trended toward one another. At 3 and 6 months post intervention, nurse and physician scores changed differently in moral distress and ethics self-efficacy. When examining nurse and physician scores separately over time, we found nurses' scores in moral distress and moral distress frequency decreased significantly over time and ethics self-efficacy and ethics climate increased significantly over time. Physicians' scores did not change significantly.


Discussion: This study indicates that routine, team-based ethics assessment and planning opens a space for sharing information, which could decrease nurses' moral distress and increase their ethics self-efficacy. This, in turn, can potentially promote teamwork and reduce burnout.