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Moral Distress in Healthcare: Survey by Whitehead et al.


Nursing research helps back up the practice itself but only if it is done correctly, an endeavor that constructive criticism puts to the test. Thus, examining the article “Moral distress among healthcare professionals: Report of an institution-wide survey” by Whitehead, Herbertson, Hamric, Epstein, and Fisher (2015) allows further advancing nursing towards to a more credible research base. Published in 2015 within the peer-reviewed Journal of Nursing Scholarship, the article aims to shed light on the toll upon medical specialists’ mental health. Whitehead et al. (2015) carried out the investigation through a web-survey analysis. The purpose of such exploration revolves not only around the undertaking of advancing nursing research but is also within addressing the more adverse effects of the profession.

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Overview of Study Aims, Methods, and Limitations

Reviewing the goals of a study only becomes possible if they are correctly defined within the research. The aim of an investigation is directly related to the goals achieved and data analyzed (Parahoo, 2014). This critically approached research intended to prove four hypotheses that Whitehead et al. (2015) had gathered from a literature review on the subject. The assumptions were made regarding the relation between moral anxiety levels and an organization’s ethical levels, expert assignment for principled decision-making, staff turnover, as well as its causes.

The researchers used a descriptive and comparative design for their study, as this type of construction is most efficient for finding the correlation between facts (Fain, 2017). Only healthcare professionals took part in the survey, creating a profession-related constant, with “demographic and computer variables” (Whitehead et al., 2015, p. 120). However, the potential respondents decided by their own initiative to participate or refuse thus possibly skewing the results.

While the research retains a strong methodological base, it seems limited by its population selectivity. Specialists of only one medical institution were presented with a chance to participate in the survey, an increased number of whom were nurses. As per any research guidelines to “list the constrains and limitations of the study,” the researchers include this information within their article (Holloway & Galvin, 2017, p. 43). Thus, replication of such research becomes possible through collaboration with healthcare organizations and an array of specialists.

Methodology Inspection

The research uses tested survey methods to evaluate distress levels among medical staff, unwillingly focusing on nurse respondents, thus furthering the investigation of numerous other studies on this topic. The feasibility and reality of such a method are linked to response truthfulness and willingness of respondents to participate. Result validity is directly correlated with their usability and thus requires critically analyzing the received answers (Fain, 2017). Through comparisons with past studies on a similar topic, the results were verified to be in trend with previous researches. However, the limitations presented allow making only assumptions about the general state of staff in medical institutions.

Results Evaluation

The results were interpreted through data comparison, and hypotheses proving or partially proving. The authors were able to draw conclusions from the correspondence of data variables, and although an entirely new approach was not implemented, fresh, supporting information was presented. Future studies, such as a publication by Jameton (2017) have further adhered to the findings of this research through drawing similar conclusions. Rushton, Schoonover-Shoffner, and Kennedy (2017) additionally have studied the effect of distress as influencing the cause. Thus, research significance may not be underestimated, with results corresponding with both past and future studies.

Research Influence

A contribution was made by this research in explicitly diagnosing the causes of distress in relation to different factors. Practical applications of this research, as it supplants previous ones in respondent number, lie in directly addressing the causes of mental malaise of staff. Nursing implications of this research are directly rooted in treating staff conditions. Therefore, such an instigation justly deserves the attention of future researchers.

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The critiqued research has achieved its results using time-tested approaches and verified them through comparison with previous studies. The investigation by Whitehead et al. (2015) is in trend with other findings on the topic of the mental state of specialists. Additionally, despite the research being limited to a single institution, it had collected a previously unachieved number of respondents, thus raising the demands for future researchers.


Fain, J. (2017). Reading, understanding, and applying nursing research (5th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: John Wiley & Sons.

Holloway, I., & Galvin, K. (2017). Qualitative research in nursing and healthcare (4th ed.). Ames, IA: John Wiley & Sons.

Jameton, A. (2017). What moral distress in nursing history could suggest about the future of health care. AMA Journal of Ethics, 19(6), 617-628. Web.

Parahoo, K. (2014). Nursing research: Principles, process and issues (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rushton, C., Schoonover-Shoffner, K., & Kennedy, S. (2017). Executive summary: Transforming moral distress into moral resilience in nursing. AJN: American Journal of Nursing, 117(2), 52-56. Web.

Whitehead, P., Herbertson, R., Hamric, A., Epstein, E., & Fisher, J. (2015). Moral distress among healthcare professionals: Report of an institution-wide survey. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47(2), 117-125. Web.

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