Background: Medicine is full of value conflicts. Limited resources and legal regulations may place doctors in difficult ethical dilemmas and cause moral distress. Research on moral distress has so far been mainly studied in nurses.
Objective: To describe whether Norwegian doctors experience stress related to ethical dilemmas and lack of resources, and to explore whether the doctors feel that they have good strategies for the resolution of ethical dilemmas.
Design: Postal survey of a representative sample of 1497 Norwegian doctors in 2004, presenting statements about different ethical dilemmas, values and goals at their workplace.
Results: The response rate was 67%. 57% admitted that it is difficult to criticise a colleague for professional misconduct and 51% for ethical misconduct. 51% described sometimes having to act against own conscience as distressing. 66% of the doctors experienced distress related to long waiting lists for treatment and to impaired patient care due to time constraints. 55% reported that time spent on administration and documentation is distressing. Female doctors experienced more stress that their male colleagues. 44% reported that their workplace lacked strategies for dealing with ethical dilemmas.
Conclusion: Lack of resources creates moral dilemmas for physicians. Moral distress varies with specialty and gender. Lack of strategies to solve ethical dilemmas and low tolerance for conflict and critique from colleagues may obstruct important and necessary ethical dialogues and lead to suboptimal solutions of difficult ethical problems.
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Competing interests: None.