BACKGROUND: Constraint of nurses by healthcare organizations, from actions the nurses believe are appropriate, may lead to moral distress. OBJECTIVE: To present findings on moral distress of critical care nurses, using an investigator-developed instrument. METHODS: An instrument development design using consensus by three expert judges, test-retest reliability, and factor analysis was used. Study participants (N = 111) were members of a chapter of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, critical care nurses employed in a large medical center, and critical care nurses from a private hospital. A 32-item instrument included items on prolonging life, performing unnecessary tests and treatments, lying to patients, and incompetent or inadequate treatment by physicians. RESULTS: Three factors were identified using factor analysis after expert consensus on the items: aggressive care, honesty, and action response. Nurses in the private hospital reported significantly greater moral distress on the aggressive care factor than did nurses in the medical center. Nurses not working in intensive care experienced higher levels of moral distress on the aggressive care factor than did nurses working in intensive care. Of the 111 nurses, 12% had left a nursing position primarily because of moral distress. CONCLUSIONS: Although the mean scores showed somewhat low levels of moral distress, the range of responses revealed that some nurses experienced high levels of moral distress with the issues. Research is needed on conditions organizations must provide to support the moral integrity of critical care nurses.

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