How Attendings Can Help Residents Navigate Moral Distress: A Qualitative Study

Jimmy Beck, Kimberly L. O'Hara, Carla N. Falco, Hannah K. Bassett, Cameron L. Randall, Stephanie Cruz, Kirsten Senturia, Janice L. Hanson, Julia Wignall, Douglas J. Opel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: To explore how pediatric hospitalist attendings can recognize, prevent, and mitigate moral distress among pediatric residents. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study, utilizing a deductive approach, from August 2019 to February 2020 at 4 university-affiliated, freestanding children's hospitals in the United States using semistructured, one-on-one interviews with pediatric residents and pediatric hospitalist attendings. All transcripts were coded by pairs of research team members. Using constant comparative analysis, codes were categorized into themes and subsequently grouped into domains. We then conceptualized the relationships between the domains. Results: We interviewed 40 physicians (18 residents, 22 attendings) and identified specific strategies for attendings to help residents navigate moral distress, which were categorized into 4 proactive and 4 responsive themes. The proactive themes included strategies employed before morally distressing events to minimize impact: ensuring attendings’ awareness of residency factors influencing residents’ moral distress; knowing available support resources; creating a learning environment that lays the foundation for mitigating distress; and recognizing moral distress in residents. The responsive themes included strategies that help mitigate the impact of morally distressing situations after they occur: partnering with the senior resident to develop a team-specific plan; consideration of who will participate in, the timing of, and content of the debrief. Conclusions: We present multiple strategies that attendings can implement to learn to recognize, prevent, and mitigate moral distress among residents. Our findings highlight the need for both proactive and reactive strategies and offer a possible roadmap for attending physicians to help their residents navigate moral distress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1458-1466
Number of pages9
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021


  • moral distress
  • pediatric hospital medicine


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