Background: Moral distress can affect critical care nurses caring for complex patients. It can result in job dissatisfaction, loss of capacity for caring, and nurse turnover, resulting in a negative impact on quality care.

Purpose: This project was completed to determine how moral distress impacts critical care nurses (adult and pediatric) and to implement improvement strategies to reduce moral distress, improve job satisfaction, and retention.

Theoretical Framework: Nathaniel’s Theory of Moral Reckoning was the grounded theory used to show the application of the improvement interventions.

Methods: Phase 1 was a cross-sectional design using the 26-item Hospital Ethical Climate Survey (HECS) and the 21-item Moral Distress Scale-Revised (MDS-R). Phase 2 consisted of a mixed-method design employing focus group interviews, interventions, and pre- and posttest.

Results: Pediatric nurses reported lower mean moral distress composite scores 21.71 (15.47) as compared to the adult nurses 88.75 (64.7). For adult nurses, a strong correlation existed between ethical climate and moral distress (rs =-.62, n = 10, p = .49), with high levels of ethical climate associated with lower levels of moral distress. The cohort group identified personal and professional impact of moral distress with some differences between the pediatric and adult nurses related to the source of moral distress responses to suffering. The 3-month post survey showed a total moral distress score for one adult critical care nurse decreased from 158 to 74. The remaining three nurses’ scores were unchanged. All four nurses were not considering leaving their position now. All participants either agreed or strongly agreed the education and action plan reduced their moral distress.

Publication Date


Presented At:

11th Annual BHSF Research Conference

Content Type


Baptist Health South Florida Affiliations:

Rose Allen, DNP, MSM/HM, RN, CHPN

Additional Authors:

Eve Butler, PhD, RN

Open Access

Available to all.