Using evidence-based debriefing to combat moral distress in critical care nurses: A pilot project

Nicole M. Fontenot, Krista A. White


Objective: Moral distress (MD) is a problem for nurses that may cause despair or disempowerment. MD can have consequences like dissatisfaction or resignation from the nursing profession. Techniques such as evidence-based debriefing may help nurses with MD. Creating opportunities for critical care nurses to debrief about their MD might equip them with the tools needed to overcome it. Measuring MD by using the Moral Distress Thermometer (MDT) could provide insight into how debriefings help nurses. The purpose of this pilot project was to examine the impact of evidence-based debriefing sessions on critical care nurses’ sense of MD.

Methods: This pilot project used a quasi-experimental, one-group, before-during-after design. Critical care nurses (N = 21) were recruited from one unit at a large academic medical center. Four debriefing sessions were held every 2 weeks. Participants completed the MDT 2 weeks before the first session, at the end of each session they attended, and 1 month after the debriefing sessions.

Results: In the pilot project, participants felt that debriefing was helpful by increasing their self-awareness, giving them time to commune with colleagues, and encouraging them to improve self-care habits; however, MDT scores did not change significantly when comparing pre with post intervention scores (t(12) = 0.78, p = .450).

Conclusions: The use of debriefing may help nurses gain self-awareness of MD and it may offer nurses strategies to build moral resilience.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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