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Moral Distress: A Qualitative Study of Experiences Among Oncology Team Members

Colleen McCracken

Natalie McAndrew

Kathryn Schroeter

Katie Klink

moral distress, interprofessional, teamwork, decision-making, oncology
CJON 2021, 25(4), E35-E43. DOI: 10.1188/21.CJON.E35-E43

Background: Oncology healthcare professionals (HCPs), particularly nurses, experience moral distress. However, little is known about the impact of moral distress on oncology teams.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to describe moral distress as it is experienced by oncology teams in practice.

Methods: 32 oncology team members participated in eight focus groups. Content analysis was used to identify key themes. Two investigators collaboratively analyzed the data, and findings were independently reviewed by two additional investigators.

Findings: The following six themes emerged: the meaning of oncology care, the rippling effects of cancer, decision-making barriers are central to the moral distress experience, other antecedents of HCPs’ moral distress, consequences of HCPs’ moral distress, and ways to mitigate moral distress and burnout in oncology. Practice recommendations included enhanced teamwork, early palliative care involvement, a communication liaison role, and accessibility to mental HCPs. Healthcare team perspectives on moral distress can guide the development of targeted strategies to mitigate moral distress in oncology practice.

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