Ethics are sets of values by which you determine right from wrong. As a nurse, you run into regular situations that require you to make a decision and that decision often is based on your ethical beliefs and practices. While many groups provide a set of standards for nurses, developing and standing by your own set of ethics can help you reduce conflict in the workplace and be comfortable with the decisions you make.
American society values the individual and the right to self-determination. (ref 1) Other cultures may place more value on the family or on a religious upbringing that calls for clerical intervention when making medical decisions. When you work with patients from varying backgrounds, you may run into conflicts that are based on different value systems. Sometimes you may have to follow the wishes of the patient, which may go against your own beliefs. Be aware of your own values and biases when treating a culturally diverse population. Respect other cultures and religious backgrounds and you’ll avoid conflicts.
As the primary caretaker, you often get closer to patients and understand their needs and conditions as well as or sometimes even better than their physician. As such, it’s your ethical obligation to advocate for your patients, even when it causes conflict with the doctor providing the treatment. (ref 2, pg 113) The conflict is not so much within between yourself and your patient, but with a medical system that often lumps people into groups without concern for individual needs.
You’ve got to be ready to face dilemmas that place you in direct conflict with your own morals and values. Your job is to treat your patients with the highest standard of care possible and follow the orders and policies of the facility where you work. For example, you may have to care for patients who have tried to commit suicide and you believe the person does not deserve the same level of care as people fighting to stay alive. If you are strongly opposed to abortion, there will come a time when you have to care for a woman who is hospitalized because of complications following that exact procedure. The conflict in these cases lies within yourself and cannot interfere with your work.
You may believe yourself to be an honest woman who believes that the truth is always the best. Will you be able to bend your stringent moral attitudes when confronted with a dying patient whose family asks you to lie to the patient for her peace of mind? If a physician chooses not to tell a patient about a poor prognosis, do you take it upon yourself to tell the patient the truth because you believe patients have the right to know the truth? Honesty in communications with patients and family members pose a range of ethical conflicts that you may have to decide on a case-by-case basis.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."