Nurse-researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing have created and vetted a new tool to help determine the level of nurses’ moral distress during pandemic conditions.

Moral distress occurs when one knows the ethically correct action to take but feels powerless to take that action, according to the American Nurses Association. The researchers foresee the new tool, called the COVID‐19 Moral Distress Scale (COVID‐MDS) being used to help nurse leaders assess their colleagues’ well-being. It can also help to identify areas for intervention with the aim of preventing or mitigating moral distress unique to pandemics, they said.

When there is conflict between the individual’s internal moral compass and the external work environment, the effects may be seen in nurses’ mental health, and in subsequent burnout and staff turnover. These problems warrant investigation, the researchers said.

“Accounting for the unique sources of pandemic moral distress in research projects and by nurse leaders is overdue,” said Eileen T. Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, at Penn Nursing.  “We’re proud that the COVID‐MDS has the promise to address multiple urgent questions that emerge from the moral distress nurses endured during the pandemic.”

The tool was successfully evaluated in a study published in the journal Research in Nursing & Health.

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