What is it about?

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the mental and emotional states of healthcare workers. Among these issues, one in particular is scarcely discussed: “moral injury.” Moral injury refers to a deep emotional wound that occurs when one witnesses or plays a role in committing an act that goes against their most deeply held moral beliefs. Let's look at this in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers had to work with scarce resources. This meant that they had to prioritize saving patients who had a better chance of survival. This may have caused them to question their own ethics, giving rise to moral injury. Given the lack of discourse around this problem, a study explored the extent of research on moral injury in healthcare. The authors found only seven papers focusing on moral injury or similar concepts. These articles, too, clubbed moral injury with moral distress, despite these being two distinct concepts. The authors explained that moral distress can be prevented by changing the situation of a person. Moral injury results in more permanent emotional damage. Over time, however, constant moral distress could lead to moral injury.

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Why is it important?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious moral injury in healthcare workers, who helplessly watched their patients suffer and die. Such moral injury causes emotional, mental, and social damage. It can trigger guilt, despair, burnout, addiction, and even suicide. This ultimately harms the efficiency of healthcare services. People who suffer from or are at risk of moral injury need timely help and support to endure and work efficiently in trying situations. There is a clear need to manage moral injury in healthcare workers. KEY TAKEAWAY: This study pushes for more research and discourse on moral injury in the healthcare context. A clearer idea of when moral distress turns into moral injury is needed. This can improve the mental health of healthcare providers and the efficacy of health services during trying times.

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This page is a summary of: Moral injury in healthcare professionals: A scoping review and discussion, Nursing Ethics, January 2021, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0969733020966776.
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