Moral discussion

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 After reading the Lachman article located in the resources section I want you to describe situations you may encounter as a new nurse that could impact your moral resilience. You may choose to include situations from your past.  As you think about these situations consider how you can build up your moral resilience.  The discussion posting should also address the differences between moral injury, moral distress and moral residue, as well as how you would cope with each of those challenges. 

Please in APA format and no plagiarism, correct spelling and grammar.

March-April 2016 • Vol. 25/No. 2 121

Vicki D. Lachman, PhD, APRN, MBE, FAAN, is President, V.L.
Associates, a consulting and coaching firm, Avalon, NJ, and Sarasota,
FL. She is Chair, American Nurses Association Ethics and Human
Rights Advisory Board, and serves on a hospital ethics committee.

Moral Resilience: Managing and
Preventing Moral Distress and

Moral Residue

P racticing nurses need confidence in confronting
morally complex situations to reduce the poten-
tial for moral injury, and thus prevent moral dis-

tress and burnout (Rushton, Batcheller, & Schroeder,
2015). To gain this self-confidence, nurses need to iden-
tify appropriate levels of moral responsibility in situa-
tions of moral ambiguity or complexity. Understanding
the concept of moral resilience will be helpful in creat-
ing prevention and intervention strategies. An illustra-
tive case, table of definitions, and attributes of moral
resilience are described, with discussion of how leaders
can support resilience by building an ethical workplace.

A Case of Moral Injury and Moral Distress
This case example exemplifies the profound impact

of futile intervention on the mind of a nurse who was
able to write the narrative for a research project 30 years
later (Ferrell, 2006). This case will be used in this article
to illustrate the definitions (see Table 1) and examine
how moral resilience strategies could have helped.

I was working on a medical-surgical floor with a
pat ient with end-stage liver cancer. The oncolo-
gist decided to do a bone marrow biopsy. There
was no benefit to the patient; he just wanted to
see what was happening with her. He was not
going to change any treatment. My sense was
he just wanted to satisfy his curiosity. I was a
relatively new nurse and I questioned him some
but then let it go. (p. 927)

In this case, the nurse’s action was insufficient to pre-
vent an unnecessary, futile procedure. As a result, the
nurse experienced lingering feelings over the personal
loss of moral integrity (i.e., moral residue).

What Is Resilience?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2015a) defined

resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or
successful again after something bad happens; an ability
to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or

change” (para. 1-2). By the nature of their work, all nurs-
es have had the opportunity to see human resilience in
clinical specialties – oncology, neurology, cardiology –
and trauma survivors, as well as post-combat experi-
ences of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress
disorder. Nurses need resilience to thrive in these inti-
mate and complex clinical situations. What are the
characteristics of those who are resilient?

A concept analysis of resilience by Earvolino-Ramirez
(2007) resulted in helpful descriptive parameters. Her
research defined six attributes that repetitively appeared
in the literature. The first characteristic was rebounding/
reintegration. “A quality of bouncing back and moving on
in life after adversity is present in resilience” (p. 76).
Reintegration describes an individual’s desire to return to
a normal routine in an improved way. High expectancy/
self-determination was the second characteristic. This
involves having a sense of purpose in life and an internal
belief an individual will persevere no matter what life
brings. The third characteristic was positive relationships/
social support. In nine studies with children and adults,
the presence of at least one social support and meaning-
ful relationship with one significant adult was consistent
with resilient outcomes. Flexibility was the fourth charac-
teristic and encapsulated the crux of adaptability – the
ability “to roll with the punches,” be accepting, and have
an easy temperament. The fifth characteristic was “hav-
ing a sense of humor about life situations and about
one’s self…” (p. 77). Being able to make light of the
adversity and the intensity of personal emotional reac-
tions helps individuals keep a realistic perspective. We
have all laughed with patients as they navigated through
awkward movements in their recovery. The sixth and
final characteristic was self-esteem/self-efficacy. These
terms often are recognized as the answer to “why some
people snap and some people snap back” (p. 77).
Earvolino-Ramirez concluded adversity was the single
most recognized variable that discriminated resilience
from other personality traits (e.g., hardiness) or social
management processes (e.g., support groups).

What Is Moral Resilience?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2015b) defined

moral as “concerning or relating to what is right and
wrong in human behavior; considered right and good
by most people: agreeing with a standard of right behav-

Ethics, Law,
and Policy Vicki D. Lachman

March-April 2016 • Vol. 25/No. 2122

ior” (para. 1). Though the term moral resilience was used
in numerous publications, no definition was offered
(Monteverde, 2014; Rushton et al., 2015; Rushton &
Kurtz, 2015). This author defines moral resilience as the
ability and willingness to speak and take right and good
action in the face of an adversity that is moral/ethical in
nature. Lessons learned from military combat situations
are instructive in further understanding the application
of moral resilience to nursing clinical situations
(American Nurses Association [ANA], 2015a; Litz et al.,
2009).

Why Is Moral Resilience Key in Dealing
with Moral Complexity?

Litz and colleagues (2009) defined moral injury as an
injury suffered as a result of “perpetrating, failing to pre-
vent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply
held moral beliefs and expectations” (p. 296). The harm
done by moral injury comes from its ability to “shatter
an individual’s beliefs about the purpose and meaning
of life, challenge belief in God, induce moral conflict,
and even precipitate an existential crisis” (p. 296).
Service members, as well as nurses, may experience
moral injury from two sources. First, they may witness
or do something that violates their moral code. For
example, the nurse failed to prevent the intervention in
the futility case, creating a moral conflict that left her
with moral residue. Second, individuals may become so

Ethics, Law, and Policy

entrenched in the culture in which they work that their
moral code begins to incorporate elements of their host
culture (Markus & Kitayama, 2003; Monteverde, 2014;
Snow, 2009; Zimbardo, 2007). What becomes normal
clinical practice can violate compassionate, evidence-
based care of patients in some unit/organizational cul-
tures. Extensive arguments have been offered by situa-
tional philosophers and social psychologists that moral
character will be traded for situational acceptance.
Monteverde (2014) and Erdil and Korkmax (2009) called
for new ethics education for nurses; both identified the
influence of the so-called hidden or informal curricu-
lum to which students are exposed during clinical prac-
tice. Practicing nurses are exposed to the same organiza-
tional culture that deals compassionately with difficult
patients, confronts patient safety issues, supports
patient advance directives, or does not.

Resilient people employ transformational coping
strategies of understanding and contextualizing the cir-
cumstances of the situation. They see the reality of the
culture in which they work and sometimes must take
action that does not support the cultural norm. They
couple this with situation-focused problem solving to
reframe the event in terms of a challenge over which
they have some level of control. Resilience is cultivated
when nurses are able to frame their experiences contex-
tually in environments with different, even competing
moral systems while maintaining a healthy sense of
commitment, control, and challenge. Van Den Berg

TABLE 1.
Terms and Definitions

Term Definition Source
Moral complexity Emerges when events do not fit within learned rules. Monteverde, 2014, p. 393
Moral ambiguity The possibility of interpreting an expression in two or more distinct

ways; vagueness or uncertainty of meaning [lack of clarity as what
is the right and good thing to do].

The Free Dictionary, 2003

Moral injury Perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that trans-
gress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.

Litz et al., 2009, p. 296

Moral distress The condition of knowing the morally right thing to do, but institu-
tional, procedural, or social constraints make doing the right thing
nearly impossible; threatens core values and moral integrity.

ANA, 2015b, p. 44

Moral residue Lingering feelings after a morally problematic situation has passed;
in the face of moral distress, the individual has seriously compro-
mised himself or herself, or allowed others to be compromised,
resulting in loss of moral integrity.

Epstein & Hamric, 2009, p. 330

Moral courage Capacity to overcome fear and stand up for his or her core values;
the willingness to speak out and do what is right in the face of
forces that would lead a person to act in some other way; it puts
principles into action.

Lachman, 2007, p. 131

Moral resilience The ability and willingness to speak and take right and good action
in the face of an adversity that is moral/ethical in nature.

This article

Prestige resilience The set of reactive attitudes that allow a person to cope with the
permanent public presence of cultural others, without harming or
denying his or her identity.

Van Den Berg, 2004, p. 197

March-April 2016 • Vol. 25/No. 2 123

Moral Resilience: Managing and Preventing Moral Distress and Moral Residue

(2004) defined prestige resilience as “the set of reactive
attitudes, which allows a person to cope with the per-
manent public presence of cultural others, without
harming or denying her own identity” (p. 197).
According to Litz and co-authors (2009),

…the idea is not to try and fix the past, but
rather to draw a firm line around the past and its
related associations, so that the mistakes of the
past do not define the present and the future and
so that a pre-occupation with the past does not
prevent possible future good. (p. 704)

Do morally resilient nurses manage moral distress sit-
uations in clinical practice differently, avoiding moral
residue that erodes their moral integrity? As Epstein and
Hamric (2009) noted in their research, the answer to
this question is unknown. Mealer and colleagues (2012)
commented, “…future research is needed to better
understand coping mechanisms employed by highly
resilient nurses and how they maintain a healthier psy-
chological profile” (p. 292). This author believes
research on the development of resilience could yield
promising ways to combat moral distress and moral
residue, as well as better understand the development of
moral courage and moral resilience (Mealer et al, 2012;
Monteverde, 2014; Moore, 2014; Rushton et al., 2015;
Wagnild, 2014). Because resilience can be learned, an
individual needs to understand what characteristics are
most important to develop.

What Other Attributes Are Needed to
Build Moral Resilience?

Using the work of Conner and Davidson (2003) from
the development of their resilience scale (CD-RISC),
Wagnild’s (2014) work on the True Resilience Scale Survey
(TRS), and other references in this article, this author adds
to the Earvolino-Ramirez (2007) concept analysis of
resilience six attributes most relevant to moral resilience.
Considerable overlap exists in characteristics, and the fol-
lowing statements from the resilience scales address the
importance of clarity of beliefs:
• “I stay true to myself even when I’m afraid to do so.”

(TRS)
• “My deeply held values guide my choices.” (TRS)
• “I make decisions that are consistent with my

beliefs.” (TRS)
• “I know what’s most important to me and this

knowledge guides my life.” (TRS)
• “Make unpopular decisions.” (CD-RISC)
• “Can handle unpleasant feelings.” (CD-RISC)
In the case, the nurse did not stay true to the personal
belief of patient advocacy and was left with the moral
residue of guilt.

All authors on resilience address the importance of
perseverance. Below are three quotations from the two
scales and a book that reflect its importance for moral
resilience.
• “Even if I don’t feel like it, I do what I need to do.”

(TRS)

• “Best effort no matter what.” (CD-RISC)
• “Perseverance means you don’t give up easily on any-

thing.” (Wagnild, 2014, p. 13)
These behaviors, plus the six attributes mentioned by
Earvolino-Ramirez (2007), are the traits that should be
developed by nurses for moral resilience.

What Can Leaders Do to Increase Moral
Resilience in the Workplace?

The resilience of leaders influences the resilience of
the people they lead. Allison-Napolitano and Pesut
(2015) created a model for resilient leaders and dis-
cussed the subject in depth. What follows are three ways
leaders can influence moral resilience in a constantly
changing, morally complex health care system.
1. Engage in interprofessional dialogue in truly com-

plex cases in a seminar format. This allows members
to explore their peers’ methods for engaging in the
case. The focus of this effort is on enabling members
to revisit past trauma to develop appreciation of the
appropriate context in which trauma occurred by
countering the tendency to universalize, and regain a
sense of themselves as competent moral agents.

2. Leaders and staff formulate policies and priorities
that reinforce the requirement to verbalize concerns
in morally complex cases, without the possibility of
retribution.

3. Leaders routinely consider the directives they give.
Their talk and actions need to be synchronous with a
culture that supports an ethical work environment.
The advice and counsel they offer, the stories they
tell, and perhaps most importantly the examples
they provide may indeed alter the manner in which
individuals interpret and make sense of their experi-
ences in morally complex cases.

Summary
Moral resilience is the ability to deal with an ethically

adverse situation without lasting effects of moral dis-
tress and moral residue. This requires morally coura-
geous action, activating needed supports and doing the
right thing. Morally resilient people also have developed
self-confidence by confronting such situations so they
can maintain their self-esteem, no matter what life
delivers. Finally, the ability to adapt to changing circum-
stances with a sense of humor is at the heart of their
flexibility. Morally resilient nurses are not naïve about
the price of moral integrity. They know it does not come
without pain of dealing with adversity, but they believe
the virtue of moral courage is necessary to meet the eth-
ical obligations of their profession (ANA, 2015b).

REFERENCES
Allison-Napolitano, E., & Pesut, D.J. (2015). Bounce forward: The

extraordinary resilience of nurse leadership. Silver Spring, MD:
American Nurses Association.

March-April 2016 • Vol. 25/No. 2124

Ethics, Law, and Policy

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