Moral distress among nurses involved in life-prolonging treatments in patients with a short life expectancy: A qualitative interview study

S. A. M. Arends, Milou Steenbergen, Maureen Thodé, AL Francke, IP Jongerden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: To explore whether nurses in hospital settings experience moral distress when involved in potentially life-prolonging treatments in adults with a short life expectancy. Methods: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews. Results: 23 Registered nurses working in inpatient or outpatient hospital settings participated. The nurses stated they were often not involved in decisions regarding life-prolonging treatments. They reported signs of moral distress such as feeling powerless when they when they were not being listened to in the decision-making process and when confronted with negative treatment outcomes. Nurses felt frustrated when their own values were not reflected in the decision-making or when physicians created unrealistic expectations. Conclusions: Hospital nurses experience moral distress when they are involved in life-prolonging treatment because of the patient's advanced condition and their own lack of involvement in the decision-making process about the treatment. In these situations, moral distress is characterised by feelings of powerlessness and frustration. Practice implications: Nurses need to be empowered by training programmes that focus on an active role in the decision-making process. Further research is needed to evaluate effective tools and training programmes that help nurses in shared decision-making processes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022

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