Originally used to describe what soldiers experience in wartime, moral injury in health care began to be applied to health care even before the pandemic, says Wendy Dean, MD, a psychiatrist and the president and co-founder of Moral Injury of Healthcare, a nonprofit devoted to reframe clinician distress as moral injury — and to work to improve the source of it, which she and others say is the health care system itself.
“We came onto the pandemic already with distress, and the pandemic hit on top — an acute layer of distress,” Dean says.
Researchers are concerned that nurses working in a rapidly changing crisis like the pandemic can develop a psychological response called “moral injury.”
“Probably the biggest driver of burnout is unrecognized unintended moral injury.”
In parts of the country over the summer, nurses got some mental health respite when cases declined, said Dr. Wendy Dean.
At a recent national meeting of perioperative nurses, more than 80% of audience respondents who reported feeling distressed endorsed the term “moral injury,” rather than “burnout,” in an informal poll. No segment of healthcare has a corner on distress. We are all suffering. We must Team Up to Fight Moral Injury!
The term moral injury has been gaining popularity in the internet-sphere, especially after, Wendy Dean MD and Simon Talbot MD’s article was released on STAT news. Moral Injury is an important topic to discuss as this terminology offers a broader understanding than the word “burnout.”
Burnout suggests a health professional is at fault for their emotional state: they aren’t resilient enough, and that they need to learn to recover better. Yet moral injury suggests something larger is at play. The consequences of this terminology and mindset change are immense, as we learn that hospital dynamics, insurance, litigation, electronic medical records, and policy must evolve, for health professionals to thrive.
Learn from our guests Wendy Dean MD and Simon Talbot as we discuss moral injury and its implications on healthcare.