Ethical concerns for nurses and other healthcare professionals can arise at any given time. Addressing your concerns can be a little bit tricky. You certainly don’t want to step on the toes-nor wishes-of your patients and their families, however you do have a professional responsibility to adhere to a certain code of ethics. That code needs to be your guide in all matters of concern.
Use the ANA Code of Ethics to provide a foundation for your decisions and the way you react. Your values, obligations, duties and ideals, as they relate to your profession, are clearly laid out in the code of ethics, but interpreting them and applying them to real life situations isn’t always as clear. When it comes to individual circumstances it can seem like there are a lot of grey areas.
Addressing Your Ethical Concerns
If you’re faced with a dilemma of an ethical nature and you aren’t sure how to proceed here are 7 things you can do to address your ethical concerns:
Rely on Your Intuition: Tune into what your gut tells you. Pay attention to the physical signs of anxiety and how they relate to your ethical concerns. Is your breathing shallow? Palms sweaty? Rapid heartbeat? Does your body feel tense? What about your emotions? Are you anxious? sad? angry? afraid? and finally does your conscience tell you this situation is wrong at it’s very core? Do you sense a conflict with your personal values and morals?
If you feel any physical, emotional, or moral reactions then you must address whatever ethical concerns you have and do so before the conundrum grows any larger. Many times in medicine you need to rely on your intuition to tell you when something is amiss. Learn to do so when facing ethical concerns as well.
Get Your Facts Straight: Make sure you clearly understand the facts as they relate to those involved. A slight misunderstanding of what’s at stake can cause undue concern. Go to those involved and, if possible, address your concerns with each member of the medical team. Once you have all the facts you can decide how to proceed.
Be Concise: Once you know all the facts present your ethical concerns in a concise and direct manner. Go beyond the broad concern and zero in on how the dilemma relates to the nurses code of ethics. Does the matter directly violate specific codes? Describe the conflict as it directly relates to your code of ethics.
Determine Your Response Based on The Code of Ethics: The first principles of ethics are nonmaleficence, or to do no harm, and fidelity, or faithfulness to your beliefs. Should your ethical concerns conflict with your ability to do no harm, or your faithfulness to your beliefs, then you indeed have a valid concern and should escalate your response without delay. If necessary involve those in administration who can seek the determination via the board or legal department.
Go Forward in Confidence: If you feel justified in your ethical concerns speak them with conviction and confidence to the appropriate channels or administrators. Should resolution not be forthcoming, understand the process for exercising your conscientious objection judiciously and thoughtfully.
Ask For Support and Advice: Find resources and individuals on which you can rely. Very often understanding the ins and outs of ethical violations goes beyond that which you know. Feel free to seek out the advice of those who may have a better understanding, be they peers or those whose job it is to clarify ethical concerns, such as the legal department or advisor at your healthcare facility.
Get Involved Beyond the Immediate Ethical Concerns: Promote a culture of ethical practice in your medical facility or workplace by participating on committees or organizational groups that can directly effect and influence change within the system. Join professional groups and alliances designed to promote a better ethical standard in the medical field. Let your ethical concerns be the catalyst for change within the system.
When You’re Faced With Ethical Concerns
Take some time to examine your own conscience and how your gut instincts react to the situation at hand. Even if no one else seems to feel your concern is a valid ethical dilemma, make sure to address and resolve the matter to alleviate your worries. Failing to find a resolution to your concern can result in burn-out very quickly, impacting your career and your future.
Finally, if the matter is an obvious violation of the code of ethics you could find yourself facing disciplinary charges, or worse, malpractice litigation and legal woes. If you haven’t already done so, familiarize yourself with the nursing code of ethics and remember your responsibility is to your patient, of course, but you also have an even more profound responsibility to your profession. There are no grey areas there.