This study explores if moral distress and its lingering residue were experienced by chief nursing officers (CNOs).
Chief nursing officers, by virtue of their position and experience, are expected to uphold their professional values and act for the benefit of others. Exploration is needed to determine if the inability to do so contributes to the moral distress of these leaders.
Twenty CNOs were interviewed to determine the lived experience related to moral distress and moral residue. An interpretive phenomenological analysis approach was used.
Six themes emerged describing CNO experience of moral distress including lacking psychological safety, feeling a sense of powerlessness, seeking to maintain moral compass, drawing strength from networking, moral residue, and living with the consequences.
Moral distress is a common experience for CNOs. Although CNOs act with moral courage, they still experience moral distress. Further research and professional discussion are needed to support nurse executive leaders.