Ethics consultation in paediatric and adult emergency departments: an assessment of clinical, ethical, learning and resource needs

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We sought to understand ethics and education needs of emergency nurses and physicians in paediatric and adult emergency departments (EDs) in order to build ethics capacity and provide a foundation for the development of an ethics education programme.


This was a prospective cross-sectional survey of all staff nurses and physicians in three tertiary care EDs. The survey tool, called Clinical Ethics Needs Assessment Survey, was pilot tested on a similar target audience for question content and clarity.


Of the 123 participants surveyed, 72% and 84% of nurses and physicians fully/somewhat agreed with an overall positive ethical climate, respectively. 69% of participants reported encountering daily or weekly ethical challenges. Participants expressed the greatest need for additional support to address moral distress (16%), conflict management with patients or families (16%) and resource issues (15%). Of the 23 reported occurrences of moral distress, 61% were associated with paediatric mental health cases. When asked how the ethics consultation service could be used in the ED, providing education to teams (42%) was the most desired method.


Nurses report a greater need for ethics education and resources compared with their physician colleagues. Ethical challenges in paediatric EDs are more prevalent than adult EDs and nurses voice specific moral distress that are different than adult EDs. These results highlight the need for a suitable educational strategy, which can be developed in collaboration with the leadership of each ED and team of hospital ethicists.

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