Introduction: This paper will discuss the experience of moral distress in veterinary professionals who work in the field of laboratory animal medicine (LAM). Specifically, do these veterinarians and veterinary technicians experience moral distress, what are the situations which lead to their moral distress and how do they manage this experience. Although ethical issues are prevalent within the veterinary profession, to date there are few peer review articles found to contain the words ‘moral distress’ in veterinary students and practitioners. There is little published research on whether or not moral distress is experienced among veterinary professionals who work in laboratory animal medicine. Methods: This research used a qualitative design consisting of semi-structured interviews with eight veterinarians and four veterinary technicians either in-person or via phone. Participants were recruited from a professional listserv or referred to investigator by colleagues. Open ended questions were asked about professional practices that participants experienced as ethically challenging. The interviews were transcribed and the themes identified by the student and advisor. Results: Depending on the audiences’ familiarity with professionals within LAM, it may or may not be surprising to find that the use of animals in research did not appear to factor into the experience of moral distress in this group of professionals. In addition, none of the four technicians described ethically challenging situations that were interpreted as moral distress. However, the veterinary technicians did describe the emotional work that was involved in caring for their patients, and the impact it had on them personally and professionally. There were several themes that were identified in the interviews and experiences that were consistent with the definition of moral distress. In veterinarians who experienced moral distress, the conditions that were found to contribute to moral distress were the negative valence of trust, an imbalance between responsibility and ability to act according to this responsibility, and what type of ethical climate was present. Of the veterinarians who did not describe experiences consistent with the definition of moral distress, they did describe reasons that prevented escalation into moral distress such as a strong supportive community and the ability to speak openly and honestly about their experiences with researchers, upper management, and administration, an ability to balance professional responsibilities with actions that aligned with their duties towards the animals, and trust in peers and the scientific process. The results of this research provide some empirical evidence that veterinarians in the laboratory animal profession experience moral distress. Recognizing moral distress in the veterinary profession and collaborating with other researchers who study moral distress will ideally lead to education and training to mitigate the negative sequelae that have been identified in professional communities where moral distress occurs.
University of Minnesota M.A. thesis. December 2018. Major: Bioethics. Advisor: Joan Liaschenko. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 49 pages.
The Experience of Moral Distress in Veterinary Professionals Working in Laboratory Animal Medicine.
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