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Critical care nursing, Moral distress, Psychological interventions



  1. Hickey, Johannah RN, BSN


Background: Critical care nurses experience moral distress, the phenomenon of knowing the "right" thing to do but being unable to do so, at high rates; this contributes to attrition and has severe mental health impacts on nurses.


Objective: The purpose of this integrative review was to determine if interventions to reduce moral distress have an effect on intensive care unit (ICU) nurses' moral distress levels.


Methods: Three databases were searched, PubMed, APA PsycNet, and CINAHL, using the keywords "moral distress" AND nurs* AND reduc* AND ("intensive care" OR "critical care" OR ICU). Only experimental studies involving adult ICU nurses were included for a total of 6 studies.


Results: Interventions fell into 3 categories: (1) educational interventions, (2) interventions to enhance the ICU environment, and (3) interventions to help nurses cope. Two studies detailing educational interventions demonstrated some reduction in moral distress. One study aimed to improve the ICU environment and showed some statistically significant reduction in moral distress. All 6 studies included some focus on coping, and 2 showed statistically significant reductions in moral distress.


Discussion: Only a few studies have been conducted examining this issue. These studies had severe limitations, such as small sample sizes, attrition, and inadequate control groups. There were also few statistically significant results. These interventions should be reexamined using larger sample sizes, and other interventions should also be trialed. COVID-19 may have had a significant impact on this issue, and interventions may need to be refocused in the wake of the pandemic.