Category Archives: Generic

Moral Distress

Moral distress – when you feel an internal moral compulsion to act a certain way but cannot do so because of external constraints. Your morals are usually guided by ethical principles, such as beneficence and autonomy, as well as by professional virtues. Moral injury is the result of repeated experiences in which individuals act or witness actions by others that are incongruous with their moral beliefs.

The negative emotional consequences of moral distress and moral injury are depression, decreased quality of life, and burnout.

Examples are where organisational or legal rules restrict clinical practice – eg access to abortion in the US being restricted after Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s health organisation decision.

One way of dealing with moral distress is to continue practicing the professional virtues of integritycompassionselfeffacementself-sacrifice, and humility while maintaining patients’ best interests.

Self-effacement and self-sacrifice are the virtues that say that your wishes/feelings may need to come second to some greater good. May be uncomfortable, but doesn’t mean you are doing wrong.

Humility is the idea that what you think/believe isn’t necessarily right, and certainly won’t be right for everyone. So acting against your own morals is sometimes necessary when you are taking into account other people’s views.

Discussing these issues and feelings with colleagues will always help. Seniors should promote and cultivate a positive culture where less experienced feel able to talk openly about their feelings and identify their moral distress, frustration, and outrage without fear. Professionalism means inviting others to listen and being willing to speak openly about the constraints of practice.

Ultimately, the ideal would be compassion but without overidentification with or indifference to our patients’ plight. This is of course harder for those who may have experienced discrimination (lower socioeconomic groups, women, and racial or ethnic groups historically underrepresented).

DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000005476 


We quickly get used to doing case presentations, and talking with colleagues and patients, but we don’t really learn the skills of speaking with conviction, which Winston Churchill called the most precious gift of all the talents bestowed upon men.

Important for career development, advocacy and leadership.

At the age of 22yr Winston Churchill said the essential components of oratory were diction, rhythm, accumulation of argument, analogy and emotion.

Presentation skills

It’s pretty obvious when a presentation is done badly – and so it is obvious what you need to do to give a good presentation.

  • Unprepared
  • Technical issues, esp poor sound
  • Overly busy slides, or slides that don’t seem to correspond with what is being discussed
  • Simply reading slides
  • Glaring bright slide backgrounds
  • Spelling mistakes or inconsistent formatting
  • Lack of a pointer
  • Not really understanding what a table/chart is actually showing
  • Rushing at the end, not leaving time for questions

The best presentations convey the importance of the topic, discuss real life issues, are funny (some of the time – otherwise risk of sounding callous). The speaker looks at (speaks to) you.

Media interviews

  • Consider the interviewer someone with their own agenda – know yours.
  • Reframe any questions you see as misleading.
  • Avoid patronising or over-explaining.
  • Patient confidentiality above all.
  • Know your message(s)


WHO 2019 definition – occupational experience characterized by:

  1. Exhaustion (feelings of energy depletion)
  2. Cynicism – increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

The MBI-Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS) was published, followed by other versions, including one for teachers and one for medical personnel (MBI-MP). Gives scores for each of the 3 fields. No cut offs, just a continuum, although higher scores across all 3 would clearly fit with the WHO definition.

Attempts have been made to use the tool to then define or screen for burnout. But WHO never called it a disease or disorder, but “a legitimate occupational experience”.

Better to talk about the actual feelings – Overextended, Ineffective, Disengaged – cf Engaged – high scores across all 3 fields.

Organizations should not use the MBI in isolation. Other tools exist such as Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS), which looks at workplace culture in terms of workload, control, reward, community, fairness, values.

[Harvard Business Review 2021]

Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT)? 2 forms – core dimensions and secondary dimensions.


Raanan Gillon campaigned successfully for fairness to be added to the World Medical Association’s International code of medical ethics (with respect to both patients and professionals).

It therefore joins beneficence, non-maleficence and respect for autonomy as one of the cardinal principles (Beauchamp and Childress).

What fairness means is debatable, however. And these different principles can conflict.

But it still has value as a way of analysing ethical problems. Hopefully in advance of the problem becoming real for someone.

Aristotle’s theory of justice or fairness is a good place to start – “equals should be treated equally” is straightforward, but it also includes “unequals should be treated unequally, in proportion to their inequalities). In other words, some people may need to be treated differently (“unequally”) because they need the treatment more.


Still routine practice in many parts of the world, including the USA. Last figures I can find suggest 56% of US boys circumcised, with higher rates among non-Hispanic white boys, which is down from previous decades.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association declared in 2010 that male circumcision as routine practice or for religious reasons is medically unjustified and therefore an abuse of the rights of the child.

In 2013 the Children’s ombudsmen of the Nordic countries proposed a ban. In Sweden it is illegal in the first 2 months of life, following a death from complications in 2001 (an attempt at an outright ban was watered down).

In the UK there have been legal cases where parents have disagreed on their son having the procedure.

Trials in Africa suggested that circumcision might help prevent spread of HIV (38-66% reduced risk). South African president Jacob Zuma made a point of getting circumcised, to encourage others.

Risks are low in neonates cf adults.

Muslim and Jewish cultures see it as part of cultural identity, of course.

Gaming technology in healthcare

Humans, and children in particular, learn through play. Play is how we develop new models to understand the world around us.

Expert game designers are well-versed in sociology, psychology, and the cognitive sciences that underlie motivation and behavior. They know how to achieve the perfect balance between challenge and mastery – too hard is off putting, too easy is uninvolving – and they build reward-driven experiences that capture attention.

Games are ultimately how we work out rules, and hence strategy.

All these things are essential components of learning, and indeed life.

A good game requires intense concentration, and this is where maximally efficient learning occurs, which contributes to better knowledge retention and skill development. And with a game this is almost an unintended consequence.

[Eric Gantwerker]

Faye Hawkins case

A consultant paediatrician who received a formal warning from the GMC for missing a case of fatal appendicitis.

Found that she failed to consider possible underlying serious cause for fever, and that lethargy and mildly elevated heart rate are “red flags”. But actually, they are not – common and poorly predictive, and not in NICE Fever in under 5s table. Patient was 5 already, anyway. Did not flag on Sepsis tool.

Also found that she failed to examine again or look for other possible red flags when she discharged Elspeth from hospital; failed to adequately advise parents on how frequently they should monitor her temperature and pain symptoms; and failed to record the advice given in the notes.

British association for general paediatricians complained that the pressure of the acute unit were not taken into account, but GMC response was that tribunal (which is independent from GMC) took this into account, although they could not agree on what standards for a “reasonably competent clinician” could be applied!

Medical Professionalism

“We teach good communication skills because we accept not everyone has them. But we also need to teach professionalism… We’re happier to challenge poor clinical skills, or to point out a gap in knowledge, than to have a conversation about behaviour or attitudes.”

“We expect learners to improve and progress.  So, by implication, they’re not perfect professionals: they can make mistakes.  It gives people permission to say, “That doesn’t look professional”.”

“We need to work on accepting  constructive feedback for unprofessional behaviours… We want a positive culture, where we teach people to speak up to promote professionalism.”

[Sheona MacLeod, BMJ 2020;368:m768]

Easier to spot when people are being unprofessional than to teach professionalism!

Which makes me think the issue is conflicting values/priorities rather than not knowing what is “good medical practice”.

So dress codes become an issue when someone’s need to express their individuality or fit in with their peer group clashes with public perceptions of what a health care professional should look like.

Or someone complaining about their work place on social media is wanting to assert their independent spirit even as an employee, perhaps also their right to self expression and to attract “likes”.

And professionalism is clearly performative. We can swear all we want in our heads, but to swear out loud (in most cases) would be considered inappropriate. Which also potentially makes class an issue.

Expectations (of the public but also our peers) change over time. Consider suits, white coats, ties, scrubs. Consider also #medbikini twitter controversy – an article by men describes social media posts of women doctors in bikinis as potentially unprofessional.

Rosenthal 2011 – humanism and professionalism student module included blogging about clerkship experiences, debriefing after significant events, and discussing journal articles, fiction, and film. Main focus however was on empathy.

Scott Oliver and Kathleen Collins described differences in attitudes between medical school students which appeared to suggest a hidden curriculum. Students with more knowledge focus failed to identify potential issues of confidentiality, ethics or trust. Students who had not explored such issues struggled to know how to approach such issues even if they did recognise them.

Definition is probably best medical practice but also the duties and responsibilities of being an employee. High level morals/values (as in GMC good medical practice) are uncontroversial but also hard to then produce policies from (and which can then be defended in court when issues arise).

Clearly some personalities can be more playful, or disagreeable, which are not necessarily negative (cf engaging, whistleblowing) so perhaps more about defining the outer limits rather than homogenizing behaviour.

Surveillance capitalism; social dilemma documentary (mental health declines with higher use; disinformation campaigns; extremism encouraged by algorithms)

Social media is performative (Erving Goffman – the presentation of self (name of his book), life as theatre (metaphorically- although some say actual)). 

MedTwitter – now X of course 

Human face vs personality cult and influencers

Social media hygiene. 

Modelling in absence of “official” voices. 

Self curation of brand. Bordieu’s social capital. 

How to teach?

Learn through active reflection on work based learning (cf how artificial PBL etc are).  Think about values, how they shape communication.  Modelling of democratic values.  Appreciation of complexity of communication.

[ Alan Bleakley, Peninsula medical school – Homer as evidence of honour/shame/face directed behaviours, cf feminine, guilt directed behaviours etc]

“We teach good communication skills because we accept not everyone has them. But we also need to teach professionalism… We’re happier to challenge poor clinical skills, or to point out a gap in knowledge, than to have a conversation about behaviour or attitudes.”

“We expect learners to improve and progress.  So, by implication, they’re not perfect professionals: they can make mistakes.  It gives people permission to say, “That doesn’t look professional”.”

“We need to work on accepting  constructive feedback for unprofessional behaviours… We want a positive culture, where we teach people to speak up to promote professionalism.”

[Sheona MacLeod, BMJ 2020;368:m768]

Medical Humanities

In education, Johanna Shapiro has done interesting work, for example including relevant poems into objective structured clinical examinations (Female, by Ingrid Hughes, about a woman facing a probable diagnosis of breast cancer; Dear Left Knee by John Davis; Back Pain, by Ingrid Hughes; Night on Call, by Dr Rita Iovino). A large proportion said they felt it increased empathy, and had a significant effect on how they might present bad news, on the ultimate treatment plan. Most felt the Night on call poem helped gain perspective. [Medical Education 2005]

In the same paper, adding some readings led students to say (in 1/3 to 2/3 of cases) that they would be more likely to take into consideration psychosocial insights, or that it increased some dimension of empathy for the patient, including helping them take the patient more seriously.

Themes written by doctors or medical students are commonly about the rewards and stresses, relationships, role models, death, the meaning of life – things not directly addressed in the curriculum.

The quality is less important that the utility to a particular audience.

[BMJ 2010]

Racism in Medicine

Infant mortality for black babies in US double that of white babies.

Newborn mortality in Florida for black babies under care of black doctors 58% lower than those under white doctors. No difference for white babies. Still not as good as white mortality though.