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Nursing Ethics


I am completing pre-reqs in anticipation of applying for nursing school. I am excited by the prospect of doing this but have had some personal experiences that are making me question my plans. Over the past year I've had two close relatives who underwent surgery (my mother and my mother-in-law). In both cases the surgeries resulted in hosptial-borne illnesses that greatly complicated their recovery; they were both infections that would not heal. My mother had breast reduction, and her recovery has gone so badly that she will have to go back for further plastic surgery to repair the damage.

In both cases, the hospitals were less than forthcoming in admitting negligence; in fact, in both instances, the doctors attempted to blame the infections on the patients themselves (one doctor told my mother that she was borderline diabetic, which accounted for her inability to heal properly. The nurses in the doctor's office, and a second opinion, absolutely do not support that diagnosis). In both cases, we believe that the hospital staff is attempting to cover up their negligence. In the case of my mother-in-law, we had a series of mis-diagnoses; when we requested her records to verify her meds, they were "unable to locate them." I should say that both of these instances happened at separate, highly regarded hospitals.

I do feel called to nursing and, despite the experience I've already had as a volunteer and in providing care to my family members, I don't think that I could stand by and watch a doctor or administration lie about a patient not getting adequate care or having suffered because of the care received. The nurses themselves were wonderful and helpful in both cases but, but I know they're not dumb; one even mentioned outright that my mom's infection was the hospital's fault. Despite their best intentions, they're part of the hospital establishment and so are necessarily put in a moral quandry. I'd like to think that I could be honest and make a difference as a nurse, but I'm wondering what that means in real terms.

Do any practicing nurses encounter this kind of behavior regularly? If so, how do you handle it?

I think this information is too general to finger point towards negligence. If your family has issues by all means it is not unwise to seek legal counsel. I would agree with the proposition that diabetes makes one predisposed to infection and i don't think will find too much disagreement...any nurse with some degreeof sense knows this from nursing 101. I guess if you feel strongly you really won't rest until you find out some answers.

Regarding your future as a nurse...often you will be in a position unfortunatley where a family believes something that puts the hospital at a potential liability. Saying something like 'it's our fault' is the quickest way to find yourself in a court (right or not). You will find that you bite your tongue...but if you are smart you would try to remain objective and proceed to report your concerns so that the appropriate people can get on it.

And as a real doozy i am sure that many of us could tell you the of times when we've watched a surgeon go from one pt. to another without stopping by a sink.

gwenith, BSN, RN

Specializes in ICU.

The cause of infection is a difficult thing to pinpoint in many cases as the cause is not always clear. It could be lack of hand washing (usually cited) or it could be that she colonized an IV site that then seeded to the operative site and caused the infection and it could be she is a borderline diabetic. So many many factors including in some cases just plain bad luck. The ethics underlying this are not black and white but a myriad shades of grey. Learning this is part of what nursing is about.

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