The overall purpose of this thesis is to investigate whether there is an association between “stress of conscience” — that is, stress related to a troubled conscience — and burnout, and to obtain an enhanced understanding of factors related to stress of conscience and burnout in healthcare. Of the four “studies” included, one uses qualitative research methods and the others use quantitative research methods. The data are based on cross-sectional questionnaire studies (I, II, and IV) and open-ended interviews (III).
We could find no existing suitable instrument for measuring troubled conscience in healthcare, and so we constructed and tested the “Stress of Conscience Questionnaire” (SCQ) (I), a nine-item instrument for assessing stressful situations and the degree to which they trouble the conscience. We included 164 participants in the pilot studies, an additional 444 in the main analysis, and 55 in the test-retest verification. Participants had various occupational backgrounds and were recruited from different parts of Sweden. Our findings suggest that the SCQ is a valid and reliable measurement for use in various healthcare contexts. Cronbach’s α for the overall scale was 0.83, ensuring internal consistency. Explorative factor analysis identified and labelled two factors: “internal demands” and “external demands and restrictions”.
To investigate factors related to stress of conscience and burnout (II, IV) we used a sample of 423 healthcare personnel from various specialities and with various occupations, from a district in northern Sweden. Multiple regression analysis showed that the factors related to stress of conscience (II) were: perceiving that conscience warns us against hurting others while at the same time not being able to follow one’s conscience at work, and having to deaden one’s conscience in order to keep working in healthcare; and also moral sensitivity items belonging to the factor “sense of moral burden”. In addition, deficient social support from superiors, low levels of resilience, and working in internal medicine wards were all associated with stress of conscience. The model explained 40% of the total variance.
Interviews were conducted with 30 healthcare managers, to illuminate their explanatory models of the sources contributing to burnout in healthcare settings (III). The data were analysed using qualitative content analysis. The findings indicate that continuous reorganisation and downsizing of health care has reduced resources, while at the same time demands and responsibilities have increased. These problems are compounded by high ideals and expectations, making staff question their own abilities and worth. All in all this throws healthcare employees into a spiralling sense of inadequacy and an emerging sense of pessimism and powerlessness.
Multiple regression analysis showed that having to deaden one’s conscience, stress of conscience from lacking the time to provide the necessary care, the work being so demanding that it influences one’s home life, not being able to live up to others’ expectations, low social support from co-workers, and low levels of resilience were all related to emotional exhaustion. Other factors that had an impact were being female, being a physician or being other healthcare professional and working in geriatric care or a primary healthcare centre. The full model explained 59% of the variance. Factors contributing to depersonalisation were: having to deaden one’s conscience, stress of conscience from not being able to live up to others’ expectations and from having to lower one’s aspirations to provide good care, deficient social support from co-workers, and being a physician; however, the percentage of variation explained was smaller (30%) (IV).
The findings indicate that burnout is related to being unable to live up to one’s moral convictions; thus, it is a consequence of healthcare employees’ feeling that they are not acting on their values and for the wellbeing of the patients.
Umeå: Omvårdnad , 2007. , 91 p.