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Factors associated with ‘stress of conscience’ in healthcare

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Scand J Caring Sci; 2008; 22; 249–258

Factors associated with ‘Stress of conscience’ in healthcare Aim: 

The main purpose of this study was to examine factors related to ‘stress of conscience’ i.e. stress related to a troubled conscience in healthcare. Methods: 

A series of questionnaires was completed by 423 healthcare employees in northern Sweden as part of this cross-sectional study. The series of questionnaires comprised the ‘Stress of Conscience Questionnaire’, ‘Perception of Conscience Questionnaire’, ‘Revised Moral Sensitivity Questionnaire’, Social Interactions Scale, Resilience Scale and a Personal/Work Demographic form. Results: 

Nonautomatic stepwise regression analysis with forward inclusion resulted in a model that explained approximately 39.6% of the total variation in stress of conscience. Individual items associated with stress of conscience were; perceiving that conscience warns us against hurting others while at the same time not being able to follow one’s conscience at work and having to deaden one’s conscience to keep working in healthcare. In addition moral sensitivity items belonging to the factor ‘sense of moral burden’ were; one’s ability to sense patient’s needs means that one is doing more than one has strength for, having difficulty to deal with feelings aroused when a patient is suffering and one’s ability to sense patient’s needs means feeling inadequate all added significantly to the model. In addition, deficient social support from superiors, low levels of resilience and working in internal medicine wards were all associated with stress of conscience. Conclusion: 

Healthcare employees seem to experience stress of conscience in their everyday practise. Particular contributing factors are not being able to follow one’s conscience at work, and the ‘negative’ dimension of moral sensitivity – moral burden – which is an inability to deal with moral problems. Thus, in order for conscience and moral sensitivity to become an asset instead of a burden, healthcare employees need to be able to express their moral concerns.
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Keywords: conscience; empirical research report; healthcare professionals; linear regression; moral sensitivity; resilience; social support; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden and 2: Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Geriatric Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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