While industries attempt to address the spread of COVID-19, nurses have been working long hours, many times with insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and constantly changing state and federal requirements. They are also having to make ethical decisions about patient privacy, informing others of likely exposure, and patient treatment, and as the fight against the virus continues, we are seeing new and changing ethical issues arise.

The Code of Ethics for Nurses is the standard for ethical training and decision making, and is a resource that nurses are taught to know and implement. However, as the day to day operations of hospitals continue to be fraught with unexpected challenges, it is up to the frontline workers to fight for the ethical treatment of patients, families, and even themselves. As the front line personnel most intimately familiar with COVID-19 cases, nurses have a unique perspective on the effects that this pandemic is having on their communities and patients.

Knowing the available ethics resources, standing as an example of ethical conduct, and staying as up to date as possible on regulatory changes, are just the first steps in fighting for quality of care during this turbulent time. As a nurse in the midst of it, you can use the following tools to hold yourself, your colleagues, and your organization accountable.

Know Your Code of Ethics and Related Resources

The first step in being able to fight for strong ethical standards is knowing those standards yourself. Ethical nursing practices are taught using The Code of Ethics for Nurses, and there are now supplemental texts to deepen your understanding of how to apply them. Among them, The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, published in 2015, addresses especially difficult ethical situations such as crisis management and pandemics.

Staying up to date with the standardized documentation available will provide you with a framework for addressing new situations in conjunction with the help of your hospital or organization’s ethical resources. Organizational ethical support for nurses is a major necessity that your organization is obligated to provide, and institutions are not allowed to retaliate against nurses who bring concerns about their working conditions to management. These concerns may include unsafe exposure risks, physical safety, and the quality of ethical decision making by other personnel.

While simply knowing your ethical code cannot prepare you for all of the possible decisions you will have to make as a nurse, make sure to utilize the resources you can and bring any concerns to the attention of your organization’s management. By continuing to develop your understanding of ethical standards as they apply to the crises we are experiencing, you are better prepared to argue for both your and your patients’ safety.

Stay Up to Date and be Vocal

By staying as up to date as you can on your hospital’s current regulations, as well as government regulations, you can foster transparent communication between yourself and the organizations you interface with, making sure that you are working with the most recent information available. It is a difficult task as these regulations are changing daily, but keeping an eye on current regulatory requirements is important. This knowledge is the main factor in staying vocal in the workplace.

Addressing the ethical decisions of your colleagues can help save a patient’s life, limit spread to others in the hospital, and evaluate new symptoms of the virus. In the high-tension, high-stress situations that we are seeing right now, nurses are in a position to utilize strong ethical convictions and honesty to uphold their obligation to their patients and themselves. By staying vocal when you see a questionable decision made, bringing the information to management, and holding others accountable, you can be a force in maintaining an ethical workplace.

Part of ensuring the safety and well-being of patients is to ensure that those you work with are not endangering them. This could be simply a matter of fatigue, or of an inexperienced person attempting to complete a new procedure, but either could lead to a patient being injured or worse. Being aware of the ethical practices of those around you as well as their level of experience, is another way to help ensure that high-quality ethical practices are in place.

Stand as an Example

If you are working as a CNA, or in any other advanced position, new employees will look to you as an example of how to conduct themselves. After all, the codes of ethics apply not only to patient care, but to a nurse’s responsibilities to themselves and their team. By setting an active example for your colleagues, you can help create an environment founded on ethics that support the well-being of both patients and nurses.

There are basics of care that all nurses are trained in, including ways to protect a patient’s privacy, but we are experiencing a massive event that has taxed our medical system and its practitioners beyond any in recent history. Organizations are experiencing a lack of resources, personnel are working extremely long hours in high-risk environments, exhaustion is at a high, and newly trained medical professionals are being called on to make difficult decisions. In this environment, holding yourself to high ethical standards can help provide a path for others to follow.

Education, training, understanding, and action are all required to ensure the health and safety of patients, communities, and staff alike. While the mainstays of health and wellness are still important, the environment and stakes that medical professionals are working with have changed drastically. By fighting for ethical practices, you can become a part of the solution, and help ensure that patients, both yours and future ones, get the treatment that they deserve.

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