Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing

Ethical dilemmas are frequent in the nursing field. They include, one, understaffing. An inadequate workforce raises a dilemma among nurses and nurse managers. It forces nurse managers to choose which patients to receive immediate care and those to wait. Due to staffing challenges, the available nurses must decide whether to continue working under pressure and undermine patient outcomes or refuse to work until the management resolves the problem. The Covid-19 pandemic ignited this dilemma whereby available nurses had to work long hours and risk personal and family health. Some might have opted to resign and escape the crisis.

Furthermore, nurse managers face the resource allocation versus healthcare needs dilemma. Budgeting constraints and limited resources challenge nurse managers to prioritize patient needs. A nurse manager must determine the services to provide and those to halt. Discontinuing some services puts patients at risk because they do not receive the care they need even though the service might not look critical to others.

Secondly, the science versus spirituality dilemma. Science and spirituality clash when patients choose either science-based results or religious beliefs. Some religious groups prohibit followers from visiting hospitals and receiving treatment because modern medicine is against spiritual teachings. Helping patients from such religious sects is not a straightforward process. Nurses are taught to respect each patient’s cultural values and religious beliefs. However, a dilemma arises when respecting a patient’s religious beliefs means not attending to them. The nurse cannot respect religious practices when a patient’s health is at risk.

The third ethical dilemma involves autonomy and beneficence. Autonomy denotes respecting a patient’s wishes, while beneficence describes acting for a patient’s benefit. The two principles frequently conflict, causing nurses to choose sides. For example, one primary function of a nurse is to administer medication to a patient. However, a patient may refuse medicines and medical care, forcing nurses to decide whether to respect such wishes or do good by ensuring that the patient takes the medication whether they want them or not.

Fourth, honesty versus withholding information. A person’s health is a sensitive topic, and a family may opt not to disclose specific medical information to a sick relative to prevent psychological shock, deteriorating health condition, or instant death. However, withholding medical information is against patients’ rights because they deserve to know about their health condition. Nurses face a dilemma sharing sensitive medical information with a patient while the family wants to hide it. Nurses must determine whether to tell the truth, or to withhold information.

The final ethical dilemma involves incompetence among colleagues. Nurses encounter situations where workmates are not providing proper care and support to patients. Others struggle to fulfill job functions, risking patient health and safety. In such instances, nurses face the dilemma of reporting incompetency among peers or remaining silent and risk hurting patient safety and organizational reputation. Reporting incompetency would lead to suspension or termination, causing the remaining nurses to work extra shifts and long hours. Nurses may refuse to report incompetence because they might bear the burden when the colleagues are removed temporarily or permanently.

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