The first commitment of a truly ethical nurse is to your patients, according to the American Nurses Association’s code of ethics. In all your professional interactions, you’re expected to behave with respect and compassion for the dignity, uniqueness and value of every individual. These are big expectations, but they aren’t really all that difficult to follow when your heart is in the right place.
No matter who needs your help, no matter what beliefs the person holds or what she’s done in her past, you’re going to treat every patient with the same respect when you’re practicing your ethical standards. Respect doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everyone you treat, but it does mean that you don’t have to argue with your patients either. You’ll provide the care required by your patients and help them get through their pain, even when their methods don’t jive with your own beliefs. For example, if a patient requests a visit from a Wiccan priestess to pray over her body, you facilitate the request. If patients prefer to be alone with their suffering, you honor those requests as well.
The American Nurses Association points out in its code of ethics document that nurses often face conflicts of interest that would cause any professional to stop in her tracks and evaluate the situation. For example, when drug companies offer incentives for using their brands or insurance companies recommend one line of treatment when you know it won’t work, you may have to make a judgment call. The code says that you keep your patient’s welfare first, which should help you make the final determination when those conflicts arise.
When you don’t know the answer to a patient’s question or can’t fully explain a procedure to a subordinate, you don’t make up an answer and hope no one will notice. Ethically, you’re bound to tell the truth and say you just don’t know. At the same time, according to Nurses Together, a great nurse following her ethical standards to do her best for her charges, makes an effort to find out the correct answers. Even if you’re not quite sure of the next step you need to take, stop and go ask someone who does know.
You have an obligation to take care of yourself too. While you’re ethically bound to put your patients first, you’ll do them and yourself a big favor by seeing that you get what you need at the same time. It’s good for everyone. Set boundaries so you won’t be put in a compromising situation. Don’t give out your personal telephone number, for example, or bring your family in to visit your patients. You don’t have to visit patients on your free time nor are you expected to follow up once they’ve left your charge. Protect your emotional and physical being by drawing lines on how personal you get with your patients and don’t stray past those lines.
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."