Ethics in Nursing -- Ethics in Life

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    A person who is a fair, ethical, responsible and accountable PERSON is likely to be a fair, ethical, responsible and accountable NURSE. And vice versa

    Starting in a few years, my state is going to requiring background checks and fingerprints as a condition of license renewal for all nurses. Whew! What a pain in the posterior! I mean, I’ve been a nurse for over three decades and they’re just asking for it NOW? And I’ll have to pay for all that in the last few months before I retire -- either that or retire a few months before I’m actually eligible. I’ve heard all of my colleagues complaining about the new law; I’ve done my fair share (or more) of complaining about it as well. But the truth of the matter is, I get it. It’s a personal inconvenience and potential financial hardship for me, but I get it.

    Ethics in nursing is neither very different nor very separate from ethics in life. We can -- and do -- talk about ethics in nursing although it was a very separate thing. We talk about not charting treatments you haven’t done or medications you haven’t given, truthfulness and accuracy in charting, hand-offs and updating the providers and we talk about personal accountability and responsibility in everything from assignments to the way you use your paid time off. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing. It’s ethics. The background check, I think, is to ensure that the people who hold nursing licenses are not people who have demonstrated a lack of ethics in their personal lives. And the credit check often run by employers before making hiring decisions is to ensure that the nurses they hire are people who have not proven themselves unethical in the way they handle their money -- they’re people who accept their financial obligations and work, however slowly, at meeting them.

    What do you do if you make a mistake? In nursing, you own up to it as soon as you recognize it, contact the provider, your manager and possibly risk management and set about to mitigate the damage as soon as possible. An ethical person who makes a mistake in balancing their checking account will do essentially the same thing -- own up to the mistake and set about mitigating the damage as soon as possible. (And hopefully before paying hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees or returned checks.)

    If your family owns two cars and has four drivers, each of whom wants to do something different on a Sunday afternoon, you work it out among yourselves. Elmer may have to drop his sister Elsie off at her soccer practice on the way to his football game or your spouse Spike may have to be half an hour late to his golf game after dropping Elsie off or an hour early because he’s taken Elmer to his game on the way. You may have to wake Spike up at 6 AM to take you to work so he can use the car, or maybe you make Elsie do it as a condition of using your car. You work it out. That same thing should happen when a popular co-worker is getting married and everyone wants to go to the wedding. Obviously, someone has to staff the unit. You work it out. Maybe Horace will offer to work in the afternoon so Hortense can attend the ceremony, and she’ll work the evening so Horace can go to the reception. Or maybe Humphrey volunteers to work Christmas for Horatio in return for Horatio woking Humphrey’s shift the day of the wedding. You work it out. If Elsie were to take your car without permission when you were counting on using it to get to work, that would be unethical. As would calling in sick to work and showing up at the wedding.

    If both of your children like to wash dishes and hate to clean toilets, you switch off the chores. Elsie cleans toilets this week, Elmer next week. Or Elsie cleans the toilets both weeks in return for taking Elmer’s turn to use the car. They work it out -- or you do. As a charge nurse, you don’t assign the same person to the same awful assignment day after day. You spread the wealth. Everyone takes their turn taking care of the 500 pound chronic patient with the vile personality or the obnoxious family. Or Hortense, who really doesn’t mind him volunteers to take care of him if Humphrey will please take care of the man with the grabby hands.

    You expect your children to tell you the truth about their activities and their whereabouts. You expect your employees to do the same. And while you trust that your employer is actually putting the money into your pension fund that they claim they are, you also make sure to charge the correct patient for that expensive piece of equipment you’re checking out. If you take out Percocet for Mrs. Ryder, you actually GIVE it to Mrs. Ryder instead of saving it for yourself for a rainy day. And if you pick up a chocolate bar at the grocery store, you place it into your cart and pay for it at the check-out rather than into your purse and attempt to sneak it out without paying. It’s all ethics.

    A person with four or five arrests for car theft is unlikely to be an ethical, accountable nurse and a person with two bankruptcies on their credit report is either incredibly unlucky or a poor manager of their resources. A person with one arrest for disturbing the peace on the night of their high school graduation fifteen years ago -- well, you get to decide. My point is this: An ethical, fair, responsible and accountable PERSON is likely to be an ethical, responsible and accountable NURSE. And vice versa.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '11 : Reason: formatting per article rules
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    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

    Ruby Vee tries valiantly to be a fair, ethical and accountable person, but admits to the occaisional fib to her uber-healthy husband when it comes to her chocolate consumption.

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  3. by   gc1010
    What's the background check cost? 100 dollars at the most? Cost of doing business.
    Just remember what you are talking about when you use the word ethics. Ethics is usually used synonymously with moral but you have to be careful. Ethical decisions could have amoral out comes depending on the system you are using. Morality describes values and ethics describes how those values are to be utilized. A minor point to your article. But if you have a moral value like the Golden rule then your examples of charing the wealth work great. But if you were trying to be utilitarian then you would have to gauge how much people really like/ hate a certain task to come up with the most good. It could be that the person who doesn't mind the "difficult" patients would get them all the time because they are affected less than others. So that may be a proper course but would not adhere to the Golden rule.
    just a little theoretical discussion.
  4. by   gonzo1
    I agree with both of the above. I think it is wrong to be an ER nurse that takes care of victims of DWI and then brag about how you went out last night and drank everyone under the table, then drove home. How can you do that after seeing the carnage drunk drivers leave behind. And yet I used to work with nurses that did this all the time. And they were "great" nurses that were well respected by many of their peers.
    Needless to say that group didn't seem to like me very much.