Moral Injury and Critical Care Nursing

Earlier this month I was invited to give a presentation to the Wolfson Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University. The subject of the talk was research on moral injury of critical care nurses during the pandemic which I have been conducting with colleagues at Durham University (Dr Peter Hamilton, Dr Kimberly Jamie), Hull University (Nicki Credland), Northumbria University (Dr. Oonagh Harness) and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Prof. Robert McMurray). The abstract of the paper is as follows:

“The Covid-19 pandemic placed unprecedented strain on healthcare professionals around the globe, particularly those working on intensive care units (ICUs). It was widely reported that instances of moral injury – a betrayal of what is ethically right by those in positions of power – was widespread leading to severe emotional and psychological consequences. Despite this, however, a lack of deeper qualitative research exists on this topic. In this paper we ask: What are the experiences and implications of moral injury in critical care nursing during the pandemic? Drawing on 103 interviews with 54 critical care nurses, we offer insights into the experience of moral injury focussing on: i) unsafe staffing levels; ii) inadequate equipment to provide good care; iii) inability to provide patients with a dignified death. We provide accounts of the implications of moral injury ranging from debilitating anxiety to PTSD and sectioning, as well as widespread feelings of anger and guilt leading to an intention to leave the profession. Through the voices and experiences of critical care nurses our study proposes a deepened understanding of moral injury as cumulative, intersubjective and systemic, in such a way that invites a more collectivist approach to moral repair.”

Thankfully the Wolfson Institute recorded the 40-minute presentation so it is also available to watch below. 

Online presentation from June 8th 2022

The full paper will now be presented in July at the EGOS conference (in Vienna) where I will be attending the Organization Studies and the Medical Humanities stream.  This is a relatively new area of research for me to branch out in to so I am looking forward to learning lots from colleagues and building upon the hard work we have done to understand the experiences of nurses throughout the pandemic. Finally, after a huge amount of work over the past few months, a full 13 thousand-word version of this paper is now under consideration at a journal so hopefully we will also be able to share it fully with the world in the coming months! 

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