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Ethics is a branch of philosophy that tends to provide guidelines on what is right or wrong. Most professions in the world have guidelines or rules that ensure a conducive working environment is maintained. These rules are useful since in some professions, personal opinions could really affect the working environment. For example, nurses have to serve all the patients who approach them regardless of their tribe, race or skin colour. Such are the cases where ethics are really important. Nursing is one such profession where nurses are required to help the general public to recover or maintain their health. This paper seeks to study the roles of nurses and how ethics affects the care they provide.
Ethics are generally principles that are meant to guide human behaviour. The nursing profession is a delicate field that has to be guided keenly or things could go wrong. The general rule that guides all nurses worldwide is to do no harm but ensure maximum benefit for the patients (Nagelkerk, 2005). The nursing code of ethics has been there since the “Florence Nightingale Era” and it serves the main purpose of ensuring that all patients are treated equally getting the best medical care available. It has been undergoing some changes especially over the past century where loop holes in the code are covered and ensure fair, just and truthful service to the patients. There have been several codes before but the current one is the 2001 code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. It provides the guidance for nursing care and clarifies the parts that could be ambiguous.
The main aim of the nursing code of ethics is to ensure that professionalism is maintained and that all the principles such as moral principles are followed. Moral principles can be divided into four basic concepts. These concepts are supposed to be applied on a daily basis without fail. These concepts include;
Respect for autonomy
Autonomy is the ability of a person to make an informed, independent and unbiased decision. It is the duty of the nurse to keep the patient enlightened but not to decide for the patient. Decision making is supposed to be left entirely to the patient. This allows the nurse to advice the patient on the situation but leave then let the patient make the last decision. The code ensures that the patients are respected and have the freedom to make their own decisions.
Nursing is a profession that involves direct contact between the nurse and the patient’s body. Sometimes the nurse has to operate on the patient’s body in the process of serving them (Benjamin & Curtis, 2010). This means that at times the nurse could injure or harm the patient accidentally. Nonmaleficence is a section of the code that ensures the nurse does not injure the patient deliberately. As much as the nurse could injure the patients, it should be purely accidental and not a malicious act. This section is meant to protect all patients from nurses who could be out to injure people. It ensures that professionalism is maintained and that patients receive the best service.
Beneficence is a norm that ensures the nurses motives and interests are geared towards benefiting the patient. The nurse should provide medical care for all patients while watching the benefits, risks and the costs involved so as to ensure the client gets the best service.
Nursing is a profession that involves a lot of risks and costs as it tries to benefit the patients. It is the role of the nurse to ensure that all risks, costs and benefits are fairly distributed so that all patients may be able to access the best medical care (Nagelkerk, 2005). The code does not allow some people to get access to better medical care than others, but calls for equality in terms of service.
According to research, it has been proved that nursing is a profession that is mainly based on justice and care. A professional nurse should have his or her focus on the two concepts (Miller, 2008). As a nurse, it is important to ensure that the best service is provide in a just and fair manner with no personal interests involved. This means that the main objective of a nurse should be to provide the best medical care for the patients as stipulated in the nurses code of ethics. To prove that both justice and care have to be observed when providing nursing services, theories have been put forward to try and make it clear. For example, two types of thinking can be used to show this. The utilitarianism has the belief that the end justifies the means. This means that as long as the end result is good, it does not matter how the service was given (Daniels, 2004). On the other hand, the Kantian model has it that you must follow what is right and avoid what is wrong regardless of the beneficiary at the end. These two models compete in their concepts; hence nursing ensures that both care and justice are observed when serving the patients.
Nursing ethics are greatly affected by critical thinking. Critical thinking asks a lot of questions and researches on the topic in question then eventually makes a conclusion based on solid evidence. Critical thinking can be an important decision making tool for professional nurses as they would have the necessary skills to analyse situations and make the right decisions. When nurses make the right decisions, it is obvious that the best medical services will be provided for the patients since all decisions will be based on research and evidence. Nurses would be able to tackle all the challenges they meet on a daily basis in a decent manner.
Among the different theories that have been put forward to show how ethics affect nursing care, the Kohlberg theory of moral development seems to be accepted. In his theory, Kohlberg states that nurses will use their own judgement based on their individual stage to solve ethical dilemmas. He explains this in three very important stages.
First, the pre-conventional stage assumes that a person will make a decision that coincides with the immediate consequences. He the moves to the conventional stage where the decision made by this person, nurse in this case, is based on being liked by others or at times following very strict rules (Miller, 2008). At the post conventional stage is where the nurse will be able to make a decision based on what is right and not trying to impress anyone. Kohlberg makes it clear that the moral development stages do not come with age but rather life experiences and challenges from others in the line of duty.
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Nurses are faced by many ethical decisions in the line of duty on a daily basis. They have to make tough choices and decisions often and the nature of their work does not have room for mistakes. Nurses need ethics so that they can be able to make the best decisions for their patients when need be. The Kohlberg theory of moral development ensures that nurses have a better ground for making their decisions and that the decision made fully advocates for their patients. Through formal education in schools colleges and universities, and training, nurses are equipped with the necessary skills to be able to make ethical decisions and also fully undertake the ethical decision making process (Benjamin & Curtis, 2010).
If nurses were allowed to make decisions based on their thinking, understanding religious backgrounds, then it would be so difficult to serve those that do not have the same “beliefs” as those of the nurse. For example, how would it be possible for a religious nurse to help a patient abort while the nurse believes that abortion is murder? The nurse might even end up abusing the patient and accusing her of being a murderer due to the difference in beliefs. That is why the nurses are bounded by the code of ethics such that even when they meet patients with different beliefs, the have to remain calm and make ethical decisions (Daniels, 2004). The code of ethics has ensured that professionalism is maintained at all costs and all patients are served to their satisfaction. Without the code of ethics it would not be possible to provide nursing care for everyone. Maybe the old and very sick would be neglected since they would be taken to be a burden and a lot of work. Nursing has also ensured that the care provided all over the world is standardized. Everyone needs good medical care and the code of ethics ensures that you access good care regardless of where you are.
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From the above discussions, it is clear that ethics have really affected the care provided by nurses all over the world. The code of ethics ensures that there is a fair treatment to all patients who need nursing care regardless of their background. Ethics in the nursing profession are a great advantage as it is a delicate profession that might really be affected if the nurses acted on merit based on their own criteria. Ethics have been there for centuries and should continue being there to provide the right guidance for all nurses.
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