Frequency and Severity of Moral Distress in Nephrology Fellows: A National Survey

Fahad Saeed, Paul R. Duberstein, Ronald M. Epstein, Valerie J. Lang, Scott E. Liebman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Moral distress is a negative affective response to a situation in which one is compelled to act in a way that conflicts with one's values. Little is known about the workplace scenarios that elicit moral distress in nephrology fellows. Methods: We sent a moral distress survey to 148 nephrology fellowship directors with a request to forward it to their fellows. Using a 5-point (0-4) scale, fellows rated both the frequency (never to very frequently) and severity (not at all disturbing to very disturbing) of commonly encountered workplace scenarios. Ratings of ≥3 were used to define "frequent"and "moderate-to-severe"moral distress. Results: The survey was forwarded by 64 fellowship directors to 386 fellows, 142 of whom (37%) responded. Their mean age was 33 ± 3.6 years and 43% were female. The scenarios that most commonly elicited moderate to severe moral distress were initiating dialysis in situations that the fellow considered futile (77%), continuing dialysis in a hopelessly ill patient (81%) and carrying a high patient census (75%), and observing other providers giving overly optimistic descriptions of the benefits of dialysis (64%). Approximately 27% had considered quitting fellowship during training, including 9% at the time of survey completion. Conclusion: A substantial majority of nephrology trainees experienced moral distress of moderate to severe intensity, mainly related to the futile treatment of hopelessly ill patients. Efforts to reduce moral distress in trainees are required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-495
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Nephrology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nephrology


  • Burnout
  • Moral stress
  • Nephrology fellowship programs
  • Trainees


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