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Dr. Tracy Trothen

How Do We Know What’s Right & What to Do When We “Can’t” Do It?

Moral distress has been the focus of Dr. Tracy Trothen’s research since the early 1990s, when her mentor Dr. George Webster introduced her to the topic. Moral distress occurs when one’s core values are compromised and this can lead to moral residue (accumulated left-over moral distress). Dr. Trothen has recently co-authored an article on the harmful effects that moral distress can have on healthcare practitioners with conscientious objections.

Throughout Dr. Trothen’s career, she has talked about moral distress with multiple healthcare audiences in Canada. But it has been her conversations with graduate students in the Aging and Health Programs that have taught her the most about moral distress. The Aging and Health students come from a variety of healthcare settings and some have talked openly about instances when their core values have been compromised. From these discussions, Dr. Trothen has seen repeatedly that the effect from these experiences don’t go away without intentional processing. We are beginning to understand that moral distress experiences not only impacts the healthcare professional, but the patient and their families. 

Healthcare situations that have been found to generate moral distress include: futility, prolongation of life in the face of (almost) certain death, inadequate communication about end of life, the giving of false hope, witnessing inadequate pain relief, a lack of resources and the inability to provide necessary treatment. The challenge to personal values in these situations can cause moral distress for the healthcare practitioner. 

On Monday, February 24th Dr. Trothen will be taking part in the next interprofessional education interactive lecture series in the School of Medicine, Britton Smith Lecture Theatre. During this lecture, which is also available via Zoom (, Dr. Trothen will be delivering a 90 minute (4:00pm to 6:30pm) presentation on “Moral Distress and Ethics”. During this interdisciplinary session, Dr. Trothen will use cases, exercises and lectures to identify and reflect on values, and to explore the meanings and causes of moral distress and moral residue. Dr. Trothen intends to expose the audience to these subjects so as to facilitate a greater understanding of the ways in which moral distress can affect all professionals on the healthcare team.