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Years ago, Cynda Rushton — then a bedside nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit — served with a medical team caring for a child who suffered a traumatic brain injury. The parents of the child, who was in a persistent vegetative state, wanted to discontinue life support, but the doctors disagreed. Rushton remembers the palpable stress she felt, struggling to understand why her team continued with treatment, against the parents’ wishes, while she was powerless to affect the situation.

Looking back on that moment, Rushton cites ethicist Andrew Kameton’s name for her precarious position — moral distress — and theorizes it’s a top reason for an alarming statistic: a third of newly licensed registered nurses leave the field after just two years.

“Data suggest that moral distress is increasing in many disciplines, not just nursing, yet despite three decades of research about the topic, we have very few solutions,” Rushton says.

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Johns Hopkins Rising

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