Moral Distress: What to Do?

By Patrycja Vaid;
Local 115 Communications, United Nurses of Alberta.

Moral distress has been a hot topic among nurses recently. So what is moral distress? According to the Canadian Nurses Association it is the feeling of guilt or concern as a result of failing to fulfill obligations due to circumstances that are out of one’s control. Moral distress can lead to physical and emotional strain that can lead to burnout and other ill effects in both personal and professional realms.

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It might be difficult to recognize moral distress at first as it may present as anger, frustration, shame or feelings of inadequacy. Recently, a nurse in a news article described feeling despondent. These feelings can manifest into physiological stress responses such as heart palpitations or difficulty sleeping. Becoming aware of these feelings should be one of the first steps of recognizing moral distress. Often this recognition can come as a result of speaking to a colleague or a manager. Sometimes, taking this first step is all it takes to resolve potentially distressing situations that others may not be aware of.

If something continues to be distressing, nurses can report their concerns by filing out a simple one page Professional Responsibility Concern (PRC) Report Form. This sets into motion the PRC process which involves UNA Local PRC committee members and Employer representatives meeting to review and attempt to resolve concerns.   Nurses are obligated to advocate for safe, ethical and competent care. If you have moral distress concerns, please contact the local’s executive.

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