Ethical Issues in Nursing: 8 Simple Measures to Take

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Every day, nurses face decisions that don’t have a distinct right or wrong answer. What is best for the patient may contradict protocol. Requests from patients or their families can go against hospital and other regulatory agencies.

More than half of all nurses report experiencing ethical dilemmas on a daily basis, according to a survey by the American Nurses Association Center for Ethics and Human Rights. As a nurse leader, you can emphasize eight simple tips that can help your staff with the decision.

1. Clarify details

Sometimes an ethical issue may just be a matter of miscommunication. If a nurse is struggling with orders received from a physician or supervisor, ask for clarification.

2. Compare with others

Ask other nurses how they would handle a specific situation. Other viewpoints may provide a different option, but make sure the choices are in line with the patient’s wishes. Remember, discretion is highly coveted—do your best to avoid using names when discussing situations with colleagues.

3. Follow instincts

Everyone has an interior compass that helps them make decisions on a daily basis. Often, all nurses need to do to make an ethical decision is listen to their instinct, based on their prior knowledge and experience.

4. Use ANA code of ethics

Consult the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics. This code was created to guide nurses through many frequently occurring ethical situations even if the exact issue isn’t in the code.

5. Do not settle

When facing an ethical issue, nurses should not feel pressure from a supervisor or attending physician to go against their beliefs or a patient’s well-being. A nurse should push for a resolution that he or she feels comfortable with.

6. Fight for beliefs

If nurses feel very strongly about a particular issue, they should stand up for themselves and fight for the issue. If the facility’s rules and regulations go against these beliefs, work through the appropriate channels to draw attention to and lobby for change.

7. Consult ethics committee

Most hospitals have an ethics committee available to help with ethical issues nursing professionals face. If a nurse decides to consult this committee, be prepared to present all the facts. If nurses work somewhere that does not have its own committee, seek the advice of a neighboring facility’s committee or a professional organization.

8. Contact state board of nursing

Nurses can always turn to their state board of nursing. The board is there to help and is a good resource for information.

Whatever ethical issues nursing professionals face, it is their job to evaluate the entire situation and make the best decision for the patient and the hospital. Most importantly, a nurse should never be afraid to speak up.

edited by Kevin Phang

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