Moral Distress in PICU and Neonatal ICU Practitioners: A Cross-Sectional Evaluation*

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Abstract

Objectives:

To measure the level of moral distress in PICU and neonatal ICU health practitioners, and to describe the relationship of moral distress with demographic factors, burnout, and uncertainty.

Design:

Cross-sectional survey.

Setting:

A large pediatric tertiary care center.

Subjects:

Neonatal ICU and PICU health practitioners with at least 3 months of ICU experience.

Interventions:

A 41-item questionnaire examining moral distress, burnout, and uncertainty.

Measurements and Main Results:

The main outcome was moral distress measured with the Revised Moral Distress Scale. Secondary outcomes were frequency and intensity Revised Moral Distress Scale subscores, burnout measured with the Maslach Burnout Inventory depersonalization subscale, and uncertainty measured with questions adapted from Mishel’s Parent Perception of Uncertainty Scale. Linear regression models were used to examine associations between participant characteristics and the measures of moral distress, burnout, and uncertainty. Two-hundred six analyzable surveys were returned. The median Revised Moral Distress Scale score was 96.5 (interquartile range, 69–133), and 58% of respondents reported significant work-related moral distress. Revised Moral Distress Scale items involving end-of-life care and communication scored highest. Moral distress was positively associated with burnout (r2 = 0.27; p < 0.001) and uncertainty (r2 = 0.04; p = 0.008) and inversely associated with perceived hospital supportiveness (r2 = 0.18; p < 0.001). Nurses reported higher moral distress intensity than physicians (Revised Moral Distress Scale intensity subscores: 57.3 vs 44.7; p = 0.002). In nurses only, moral distress was positively associated with increasing years of ICU experience (p = 0.02) and uncertainty about whether their care was of benefit (r2 = 0.11; p < 0.001) and inversely associated with uncertainty about a child’s prognosis (r2 = 0.03; p = 0.03).

Conclusions:

In this single-center, cross-sectional study, we found that moral distress is present in PICU and neonatal ICU health practitioners and is correlated with burnout, uncertainty, and feeling unsupported.

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