Exploring moral distress in Australian midwifery practice

Wendy Foster, Lois McKellar, Julie Anne Fleet, Linda Sweet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Problem

Australian midwives are considering leaving the profession. Moral distress may be a contributing factor, yet there is limited research regarding the influence of moral distress on midwifery practice.

Background

Moral distress was first used to describe the psychological harm incurred following actions or inactions that oppose an individuals’ moral values. Current research concerning moral distress in midwifery is varied and often focuses only on one aspect of practice.

Aim

To explore Australian midwives experience and consequences of moral distress.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were used to understand the experiences of moral distress of 14 Australian midwives. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed using thematic analysis and NVIVO12©.

Findings

Three key themes were identified: experiencing moral compromise; experiencing moral constraints, dilemmas and uncertainties; and professional and personal consequences. Describing hierarchical and oppressive health services, midwives indicated they were unable to adequately advocate for themselves, their profession, and the women in their care.

Discussion

It is evident that some midwives experience significant and often ongoing moral compromise as a catalyst to moral distress. A difference in outcomes between early career midwives and those with more than five years experiences suggests the cumulative nature of moral distress is a significant concern. A possible trajectory across moral frustration, moral distress, and moral injury with repeated exposure to morally compromising situations could explain this finding.

Conclusion

This study affirms the presence of moral distress in Australian midwives and identified the cumulative effect of moral compromise on the degree of moral distress experienced.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalWomen and Birth
Early online date12 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Compromise
  • Ethics
  • Midwifery workforce
  • Moral
  • Moral distress
  • Workforce sustainability

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