By ANA Career Center Staff – February 2015
The American Nurses Association
has declared 2015 to be the Year of Ethics
and recently released a new edition of its Code of Ethics for Nurses With Interpretive Statements
, so now is the perfect time for nurses to re-examine the essential role ethics plays in the nursing profession. Nurses face ethical decisions every day, and having a strong ethical foundation is a key part in succeeding in their careers. Still, even the best nurses may find times when they find themselves struggling with ethical challenges on the job.
Here are five considerations for nurses who find themselves facing ethical challenges.
It’s important to have a strong sense of personal ethics to build on in your profession. “Knowing who you are and what you stand for personally and professionally provides a foundation to speak up and speak out about issues that support or compromise your values,” says Cynda Hylton Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN, Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics at the Berman Institute of Bioethics/School of Nursing and a professor of nursing and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. “Without this clarity, your responses may be reactive, unreflective and potentially damaging to you and to others.”
Live your values
Just knowing your values and ethics isn’t enough, Rushton says. “We are required to speak them and live them in our daily actions. This takes courage, wisdom and resilience. Living our values means that we have to take seriously the fifth provision of the ANA Code of Ethics — our obligation to care for ourselves so that we can care for others.” Because ethical issues are part of everyday nursing practice, every nurse has an obligation to have the knowledge, skills and abilities to recognize and address them.
Listen to your gut
If you know yourself and are consistent about living your values, you’ll be able to rely on that voice inside your head saying something is wrong. “One of the things I talk to my students about all the time is that you need to listen to your gut,” says Sarah Shannon, PhD, RN, associate professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the University of Washington School of Nursing and adjunct associate professor of bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Check in with others
Having said that, Shannon says it’s important to remember that the gut is “a great barometer but a lousy compass.” Just because you know you’re in an ethical quandary doesn’t mean you know what the next step is. Consult with others, such as your shift manager or head of nursing, when a sticky ethical situation arises.
Translating ethical decision-making into everyday nursing practice is challenging. Building a network of colleagues who can help you think through ethical situations is priceless resource. A great place to connect with experts and building your network is the 2015 ANA Ethics Symposium being held in Baltimore, MD June 4-5.
Brook no disrespect
The first provision of the revised Code of Ethics for Nurses highlights each nurse’s responsibility to practice with “respect for the inherent dignity, worth, unique attributes and human rights of all individuals,” points out Carol Taylor, PhD, RN, professor of nursing at Georgetown University and senior clinical scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. Upholding that worth can provide a foundation for ethical action.
“Taken seriously, this means that each of us must practice with zero tolerance for disrespect, for our patients, their family members, our colleagues and ourselves.” Taylor recommends practicing responding to a colleague who describes a patient in negative terms to make it easier to speak up next time, such as by saying, “I’m no goody two-shoes, but I’m trying hard to meet each patient with respect.” If disrespect is a widespread problem, huddle and call attention to your organization’s zero-tolerance policy for disrespect to empower everyone to bring quick attention to violations.