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Researchers seek Canadian health care workers for study on moral distress during COVID-19 pandemic

Study aims to better understand the pandemic’s impact on health care workers

Nurse with PPE
St. Joseph’s: Parkwood Institute - 

Researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute and the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions are seeking 500 Canadian health care workers to participate in a study on moral distress and psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants will complete online surveys once every three months for a total of 18 months. The goal is to better understand the pandemic’s impact on health care workers in order to minimize moral distress and support wellbeing during future pandemic events.  

Moral distress is a form of psychological distress that occurs following an event that conflicts with a person’s moral values or standards. Through previous research with military populations, moral distress has been linked to an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

“Health care workers are facing unprecedented demands as a result of the pandemic and many may be working under extreme physical and psychological stress,” says Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson Associate Scientist and Director of the MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre. “Health care workers may face difficult moral-ethical decisions including those around patient care and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), which could lead to moral distress.”

The study will consist of a series of surveys to assess moral distress during the pandemic. Participating health care workers will answer questions about moral-ethical dilemmas and symptoms of depression, PTSD, general anxiety, and burnout. 

“Moral-ethical dilemmas must be considered in the context of other difficulties faced by health care workers during the pandemic, such as increased workloads, reduced social activities, and evolving work environments and health care delivery models,” explains Dr. Anthony Nazarov, Associate Scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre. 

The team hopes that results can be used to cultivate wellness at the outset of future pandemics. This might include guiding emergency preparedness policies and moral-ethical decision-making training modules. They hope that by tracking psychological outcomes over time, they can identify early warning signs of distress that can be targeted with early interventions. 

The researchers will also ask questions that explore how the pandemic is impacting health care delivery, such as increased reliance on virtual care appointments, and whether health care workers are satisfied with these changes. 

“It is necessary to provide a voice to health care workers during this pandemic,” adds Dr. Richardson. “This is the first study to measure the moral-ethical dilemmas faced in a pandemic and the impacts of such dilemmas on moral distress. It is also the first to measure health care worker perceptions on the virtual migration of patient care.”

Interested Canadian health care workers can learn more about the study and access the survey at
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