In your work as a nurse, you will undoubtedly face an ethical situation or dilemma at some point or another. These instances are never easy to navigate, but having a grounded understanding of medical ethics ahead of time will help you to make the right choice when the moment comes. In general, ethical situations revolving around patient care have to do with patient confidentiality, being honest with the patient, or patient autonomy.
Maintaining Patient Confidentiality
Doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t just apply to the physicians at your medical care facility. There also must be a commitment to the confidence that your patient has placed in you, the nurse who is caring for them on a day-to-day basis. This expectation of confidentiality isn’t just a legal one — with serious ramifications for breaking it — but a moral one as well. It’s your charge as a nurse to protect your patients’ right to confidentiality at all times.
Maintaining Honesty With the Patient
There is also an obligation on your part to maintain honesty with your patient at all times. It’s your responsibility to make sure your patient understands the diagnosis they’ve received and the care they’re being given, at least as much as they’re able to. It’s also your imperative to ensure that the information being given to the patient is, to the very best of your knowledge, complete and correct. Your patient has the right to know and fully understand their condition and treatment, as well as the medications they may be taking. Nurses need to work closely with the doctors and the patient’s family to ensure this level of honesty and correctness throughout the process.
Maintaining Patient Autonomy
You must remember that the patient themselves, not the nurses or doctors caring for them, always has the right to decide the course of his or her care. This sense of autonomy must be held in the highest regard. The only exception is when a patient is incapacitated and unable to give or withhold their consent for procedures. But be aware that in some cases, an advance directive may be in place, documenting the patient’s wishes even though they may be unable to communicate themselves. Your facility should have a record of this advance directive for you to reference.
Remember: no two situations are ever quite the same, and you’re not alone when it comes to navigating ethical situations in your job. With a solid understanding of medical ethics and the help of your staff and supervisors, you’ll be able to handle any patient-care related ethical issues that come your way.
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