Although a rewarding career on many levels, nursing comes with a set of challenges that put a lot of strain on medical professionals, affecting their ability to make quick decisions and protect their mental and emotional health. There are few professions that allow such a personal level of contact with people in vulnerable positions. Naturally, this makes way for many ethical questions. There are situations when it is difficult to determine what’s the best of course of action because conventional practices don’t have a suitable answer.
Below are some of the most pressing ethical challenges of a nursing career.
1. Privacy Violations
Medical professionals have access to patients’ personal health profile. Throughout their education process and training, they are thought to avoid sharing details about a patient’s health state inappropriately. Although for many nurses, keeping patient privacy is a priority, there are situations when sharing information to a family member, for example might seem the right thing to do. In fact, revealing details of a patient’s health state to a family member is one of the most common privacy breaches among nurses.
The line between vital communication and privacy violations is thin in nursing, so many professionals find themselves faced regularly with this ethical dilemma. What happens when someone calls and asks for updates about their spouse, child or parent? Should you resort to general statements when answering or provide a full review? This depends on the policies of each particular facility.
2. End-of-Life Care
In a nursing career, end-of-life care brings up the most controversial ethical dilemmas. The practice conventions of the profession mix with moral questions and legal boundaries, requiring nurses to assume more professional autonomy than in general, since their patients cannot identify their own symptoms or act on their desires. Hospice nurses must provide patients with medical and emotional support to transition to their last stage of existence while respecting their profession’s ethics code.
In end-of-life care, nurses become the missing link when the communication between patients and their families is halted. How to maintain patient autonomy when their physical or mental health is compromised? How to make decisions that don’t go against the patient’s wishes when he cannot express them? Many ethical concerns arise thus from the impossibility to assess accurately what the patient needs or wants, read more here. Nurses in end-of-life care must always be prepared to handle this kind of situations accordingly.
3. Withholding Information
Nurses have the responsibility to maintain clear communication between patients, families and other health professionals and ensure thus that there are no obstacles in the treatment path. An ethical dilemma that typically occurs is when the family does not want the medical condition to be disclosed to the patient. Is it ethically wrong to hide a terminal diagnosis from a minor? What about an adult over 65? This kind of questions makes nursing so emotionally taxing.
When it comes to telling the truth to a patient, the wishes of the family might not correspond to a nurse’s personal views. What happens when the nurse has reasons to believe that the patient expresses different values or beliefs that those of his family? According to the ethical code of the profession, nurses must educate patients on all aspects of their condition, but outside pressure might make them feel as though the moral choice is much harder than it actually is.