PTSD and moral injury in doctors

Moral injury can occur when doctors feel they are not giving the high standard of care they want to deliver. Learn more about moral injury, burnout and PTSD.

What is moral injury?

The very nature of their work means doctors can expect to see patients who are suffering or dying. Witnessing a great deal more suffering and death than usual, such as in the context of disasters or pandemics, can create moral distress.

Moral injury can arise where institutionally required behaviour does not align with an individual’s moral principles. This can be as a result of a lack of autonomy or support, or structural limitations, such as insufficient staffing, resources, training or time.

What is the difference between burnout and moral injury?

Burnout can occur when our resources are overwhelmed by the emotional and physical demands made on us. Whilst burnout is often more widely understood, moral injury can arise from a deeper sense of frustration with organisational factors. For example, limited time to see and support patients, the deprioritising of certain patients, or questionable public health decisions.

What is the difference between PTSD and moral injury?

Doctors have an increased risk of developing PTSD. It’s a condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life-threatening event or serious injury. Because doctors can be reluctant to admit to emotional problems, many in the medical profession may suffer from PTSD or related symptoms in silence or in secret. Where PTSD is usually tied to a particular event or events, moral injury more often arises from working in an adverse situation over time.

Getting support for moral injury, burnout and PTSD

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity and self-awareness. DocHealth offers a confidential psychotherapeutic support service for all qualified doctors of any grade or speciality.

If your finances have been impacted as a result of moral injury or PTSD, you may be eligible for financial support from the RMBF.

More information