This year’s theme for National Nurses Week, Ethical Practice-Quality Care, provides an opportunity to consider the importance of ethics in nursing practice. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has chosen this theme because it “recognizes the importance of ethics in nursing and acknowledges the strong commitment, compassion and care nurses display in their practice and profession.” Nursing continues to be respected by Americans as the most trusted profession, and it’s reassuring to assume that we have earned that trust. During nursing school we learned about the ANA’s Code of Ethics for Nurses which provides an excellent, and recently updated, guide for how to practice in an ethical manner. But let’s consider these questions.
- How many of us have read the “Code” since those early days in our careers?
- How often do we think about the importance of ethics in our daily practice?
- And how have nurses earned the highest trust of Americans?
Each of us has likely walked a different path in our professional ethical journey. Mine accelerated during my graduate program when my own ethics were questioned by a professor. I was accused of taking an informatics class so that I could use the lesson plans for another purpose. At the time I was working in the nursing education department of a community hospital, and part of my job was training the nurses to use our computer system. Having my ethics questioned by a professor was quite intimidating, and it caused me to do some soul searching. Was there any truth to the accusation? I was certainly applying what I was learning to my current practice. But was I stealing lesson plans in the process? My self-analysis reassured me that I was not.
Our credibility is extremely important, and even the appearance of an ethical breach can compromise a career. That experience gave me a new understanding of the importance of ethics, and it also taught me a few life lessons in the process. Whom do you turn to for advice during difficult times in your career? I found a mentor in the dean of the graduate program who remains a trusted colleague to this day. How do you deal with unjust accusations? While this is never easy, confidence is built over time and we can learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.
I am proud to be a nurse and a member of the most trusted profession. Nursing is an amazing career and being a patient advocate provides a wonderful foundation to build upon. I hope you will take some time to celebrate National Nurses Week and reflect on your own ethical journey just as I have shared a chapter from mine.