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Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Moral Injury of COVID: How Will Nurses Survive?

Diane M. Goodman
Originally posted 11 FEB 22

Here are some excerpts:

According to recent statistics, 1 in 5 nurses have retired from active duty since the pandemic began. Far from feeling like heroes, nurses now feel exhausted, demoralized, underappreciated, and severely overworked. They are broken in ways that cannot be repaired.

Recently, an intensive care unit nurse abandoned his shift in the middle of the night and walked off into the unknown only to be found deceased 2 days later. What happened to this caregiver? Was his distress so severe he could not communicate pain? One can only wonder.

Nurses across the country are suffering from moral injury.


This is what nurses feel prepared to do, but it violates their moral code.

Nurses may be unfamiliar with the process of rationing care, but the pandemic has changed that perspective. Nurses are now dealing with a form of rationing that leaves them miserable, in tears, and in persistent distress.

Providing care for 10 patients as opposed to a maximum of five forces nurses to make appalling decisions. Which patient needs my attention now? Will another patient die while I am in this room? How can I choose without suffering lasting trauma from my decisions?

Nurses have repeatedly been placed in impossible situations throughout the pandemic.

Remember the early days of PPE shortages? Nurses went without appropriate attire to protect their peers, at times with fatal results. 


The profession prides itself on delivering the highest quality care it can. But when was the last time nurses felt that they were meeting this standard? How can they? They are working in a system where their own needs are minimized to meet the demands of an ongoing COVID patient population.

Moral injury, which can lead to moral trauma if unresolved, is different from burnout. 

Moral injury affects our sense of right and wrong. Moral injury is different because it represents a situation of witnessing care or offering care that conflicts with our internal compass. It is witnessing patients die without loved ones, repeatedly, or instituting a crisis standard of care that feels endless, although no earthquake, tornado, or bus accident has occurred. It is a feeling of running behind without the possibility of ever getting a break.

Moral injury is lasting distress that leads to feelings such as guilt, anger, and shame. There are true psychological implications for this type of angst.