Nursing Advocates Gauge Nurses' Mental State, Staffing Issues

Doris Carroll, RN, BSN


October 08, 2021

NursesTakeDC is conducting a survey on safe staffing and moral distress. Add your voice here.

Doris Carroll, RN, BSN

Recently I attended a seminar by the AIDS Education and Training Center Program. Speaker Renslow Sherer, MD, presented data about the efficacy of COVID vaccines and the need for booster dosing for people with HIV. Near the end of his talk, Sherer shared a poignant thought that rang true for me:

How we survived during the AIDS epidemic is quite similar to what we are facing now.

In the fallout from the COVID pandemic, "we are all suffering from PTSD," said Sherer. All of us. It reminds me of those years in the late 1980s and early 1990s when we had little to offer our patients with HIV. The feeling of hopelessness among nurses who could only stand by as their patients endured tremendous suffering is now called "moral distress."

"The term 'moral distress' was first coined by [philosopher Andrew] Jameton who observed amongst nurses a tendency to feel distressed when they were forced to act, because of institutional constraints, in [a] way that was contrary to their beliefs," according to a 2019 Health Care Analysis article. "Jameton consequently suggested that moral distress arises when 'one knows the right thing to do, but institutional constraints make it nearly impossible to pursue the right course of action.'"

An article published in August in Nursing Ethics reports that repeated, unrelenting moral distress can lead to moral injury. "Moral injury involves a deep emotional wound and is unique to those who bear witness to intense human suffering and cruelty." 

Along with my nursing colleagues, I have experienced moral injury throughout the COVID pandemic. In February, I retired after 38 years in nursing. I was at the peak of my career in nursing and union activism.

Surveying Nurses About Safe Staffing and Moral Distress

I walked away from nursing partly to care for my 87-year-old mother in her own home in Florida, but mainly because I had reached my limits — physically and emotionally — to staff safely in my facility. And this is what the country is facing now: nurses leaving their chosen profession in the time of a pandemic.

The pain that nurses are feeling is indeed palpable.

NursesTakeDC (NTDC), a grassroots, nonprofit nursing organization, launched a staffing and moral distress survey on October 1, which runs through October 31. Responses are anonymous. To be a part of the study, please complete the NTDC Safe Staffing Survey.

We need the nation to hear you. Your input will help NTDC support federal and state legislation on safe staffing. Nurses must be heard so we can promote patient safety. Silence is consensus, so tell us what you are experiencing in your workplace and share our survey with other nurses. 

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