career in ethics and theory??


I'm still a nursing student. But lately I have been drawn

to the ethics and theory of nursing care more than the clinical aspects. Of course I fully intend on participating in the clinical aspects...but I'm trying to pin down my long term goals.

What "branch" of nursing is most likely to have the biggest impact on improving the healthcare system as a whole? Which branch of nursing would allow me to dive in to the juicy ethics and theory that I so crave??


llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 45 years experience. 13,469 Posts

Academia -- particularly the higher levels of academia.

HouTx, BSN, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Critical Care, Education. Has 35 years experience. 9,051 Posts


What an admirable goal. If you wish to become more involved in nursing ethics I can think of a few options. First of all, let me preface my comments with the fact that I am employed by a faith-based organization. I absolutely love this field of inquiry - it must have rubbed off, because both my children minored in ethics/philosophy in college.

In the workplace, I would encourage you to seek out organizations that place sufficient emphasis on ethics - more than just the lip service & policies required by JC. In our organization, staff nurses can become involved in their local ethics committees. We actually have a corporate ethicist (doctoral preparation) who leads a year long study program in Ethics & Spirituality - very competitive application process, but anyone with a Bachelor's degree is eligible.

Many nursing schools also have graduate programs in Parish or Congregational Nursing - a fascinating practice area that incorporates a great deal of ethical study. Graduates are prepared to work with private organizations (churches included) to establish community-based health care that supports the belief system of its members.

If you really want to have a real impact on the way healthcare is run, you will need to have a job with operational authority - including budgetary control. Chief nursing officers hold that role in hospitals and Deans head up academic programs. I don't know if you would consider it a "branch", but either of those types of positions are the most influential... and both usually require a doctorate, at least in large health care systems.

However, I also believe in Mother Theresa's observation that "everyone has their own Calcutta". Start where you are now. It doesn't cost anything to lead an ethics-centered life & influence others to do the same.

Good luck with your interesting career.



55 Posts

thank you very much for your thoughtful response! yes, spirituality is also one of my loves. However, i'm a unitarian universalist. I don't think the population of my spiritual community could support anything like that. I do love theology and would love to take classes. I just don't know how I could justify a focus in that direction just for the fun of it. i'm thinking ethics and theory may be more practical in my case.

thank you again for your valuable input. all the best to you



543 Posts

I suggest you take a few undergraduate philosophy classes and at least one ethics course while you are completing your BSN. If your school has a department of religious studies, I suggest taking an introductory class or two. If your interest is still there, after getting your BSN, I suggest investigating the universities in your area that offer degrees in philosophy, ethics, or religious studies. There may be an interdisciplinary course of study you can take as well. Divinity schools are another option esp. if you are near a UU Div school. You generally do not have to be "churched" to enroll in div school -- many offer MA and PhDs, not just MDivs -- and the best ones offer allow students to create an interdisciplinary course of study, such as Univ of Chicago, Yale, Harvard, among others. (I did all this prior to nursing but I hate to say, this education is wasted if you are just a nurse -- you need a PhD and need to get where you can get published. Otherwise you wind up more educated than many nurses and managers and this can cause political problems.)


llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 45 years experience. 13,469 Posts

If you don't want to become a general philosopher or ethicist ... but are interested in nursing theory and ethics and want to stay in nursing ... you can do it by getting an advanced degree in nursing.

Once you are in an advanced position in nursing, you can find more opportunities to serve on committees and be involved in projects that involve the issues that attract you. You can also go so far as to get a PhD in Nursing and specialize in those things.

The role of the average staff nurse is to provide direct nursing care to the patients. That's what staff nurses get paid to do -- and employers want their staff nurses to focus on doing that necessary work. So, there are not many opportunities to focus on ethics, philosophy, theory, etc. as a staff nurse and get your employer to pay for it. However, as you go "up the ladder" in nursing, there is more variety in the opportunities that are available. Nurses with advanced education and who are serving in advanced roles can have more variety in the opportunities that are available to them -- and those opportunities include ones that involve philosophy, ethics, theory, etc.

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