In what will be phase one of a two part research project, a pilot survey has been recently sent out to a small sample group of registered nurses across New Zealand whose practices represent a range of nursing roles in a variety of settings. The research is supervised by Dr Martin Woods, who has long been involved in nursing ethics research and education, and assisted by coresearchers Vivien Rodgers and Prof Steve LaGrow. All are members of the School of Health & Social Services at Massey University at the Palmerston North campus. Briefly, the research involves the use of a refined version of a survey tool, namely the MDSR© questionnaire, that has been used by other nurse researchers in the USA and other countries.

Moral distress has been identified as a major concern within the nursing profession in several countries including New Zealand in recent years, not least because of the growing pressure on nurses to adapt to changing practices and working conditions within health care services. It is thought to occur when nurses knows the right thing to do in an ethical sense, but are inhibited from doing so by ‘internal or external‘ constraints. Such constraints usually include both personal and institutional factors, e.g. unpreparedness for the complexities of a given ethical dilemma, lack of peer and/or managerial support, difficult working conditions, and many more.

In phase two, the research will involve hundreds of registered nurses nationwide who will receive a modified (i.e. a ‘New Zealand‘) version of the MDSR survey on moral distress. This survey will probe areas of contemporary ethical interest within the New Zealand health care arena, and includes items specifically designed to elicit significant ethically related responses. It is hoped that when these responses are all finally collated, the findings will provide both nurses and health care agencies a reliable measure of nursing concerns relating to ethical practices

If anyone is interested in finding out more about this research, or wishes to discuss the research with me, then please contact Dr Martin Woods via email at

Martin Woods,

Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Services, Massey University, NZ.