Ethical challenges, such as professional-personal boundary conflicts, end-of-life decision-making, and maintaining patient privacy and confidentiality, occur in everyday nursing practice. New graduate nurses and those with less experience tend to face these challenges more frequently.

Regardless of where they practice, nurses are always faced with ethical challenges, and they can impact nurses’ day-to-day practice and patient care outcomes. Therefore, it is important that every nurse has knowledge and strategies to manage these challenges appropriately. Here are some tips to guide you:

  • Understand the Code of Ethics for Nurses and be able to address and apply them effectively. The Code of Ethics for Nurses, developed and released by the American Nurses Association (ANA), is an important document that can provide direction and guidance for nurse’s day-to-day decisions and actions.
  • Be familiar with the hospital/organizational values.
  • Identify and use the ethics resources available within your organization, such as the hospital ethics committee, for consultation.
  • Consult with others, such as the head/manager of nursing or supervisor, when a complex ethical situation arises.
  • Talk with your patient and his or her family to gain perspective or an understanding of their choices.
  • Be aware of the effectiveness of nursing interventions and activities – and standards of practice.
  • Stay up-to-date with policy changes in your hospital/organization.
  • Engage with the hospital ethics committee and attend the meetings when time permits.
  • Collaborate and network with professional organizations/associations to gain more insight and understanding of various emerging ethical issues.
  • Read nursing ethics articles to gain knowledge and ethics perspective.
  • Take ethics education or training to increase ethical competence.

Not only are ethical challenges time-consuming and stressful, but also they can potentially negatively impact the patient’s quality of care and the nursing professional’s role. Managing these challenges will require ethical knowledge, work experience, and personal commitment to do what is right. Continuing ethics education is of the utmost importance to help nurses suitably manage these challenges, providing tools and skills necessary for their ethical decision-making and competence.

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Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is a nurse researcher and a consultant for health promotion and health prevention research.
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