Nursing ethics issues

Nursing ethics issues

Nursing is a highly regulated field. Apart from the strict educational and training requirements, nurses are charged with observing nursing and healthcare ethical concepts in the delivery of patient care. These concepts obligate nurses to provide care that is quality, correct, and rational. In a vacuum, doing right by the patient seems like a simple, straightforward aspect. However, the decision-making process in nursing is not only about choosing what is right and what is wrong. Like other professions, nurses are susceptible to different ethical issues and dilemmas on a daily basis. An ethical issue in nursing arises when a choice has to be made, yet the answers and options are contradictory. In such situations, the nurse may need to reconcile their personal values with the nursing obligation to make a sound decision.

Some of the most common ethical issues that nurses face during practice include,

  • Informed Consent. Under the ethical principle of autonomy, the patient has the right to make their own healthcare decisions. However, sometimes the nurse does not know how much they should disclose, especially in matters relating to end-of-life.
  • Emotional distress. Nurses often feel emotionally overwhelmed when they cannot do what they consider right because of the nature of their environment and the legal implications associated with the decision.
  • Pain management. Nurses are compassionate beings. When caring for patients with chronic pain, a nurse may get caught between administering higher doses of pain medications than recommended to relieve their patients from excruciating pain.
  • Disclosing information. Nurses often face the ethical dilemma of telling a patient about their medical status or being deceptive. Sometimes families and custodians may request that the patient not be informed about their diagnosis, yet the nurse is obligated to tell them about their health condition.
  • Patient’s privacy. Nurses have access to patient’s medical records and information and can release it ethically or unethically to the wrong people. Nurses have the duty to preserve and protect the privacy of their patients.
  • Establishing boundaries. Nurses are constantly involved with their patients, ensuring that they provide the best care. In the process, they can find it challenging to maintain a purely professional relationship. Nurses are not allowed to develop any romantic relationship with their patients, and patients should rely on the nurses outside their professional capacity.
  • Incompetence among peers occurs when a nurse is not equipped enough to approach and handle their duties effectively. If a nurse happens to notice their peers’ lack of knowledge during practice, they might be faced with an ethical issue of whether or not to report the matter to the nurse manager.

Years of classroom training may equip nurses with the knowledge and skills to perform medical duties. Still, nothing can adequately prepare them on how to deal with real ethical issues that arise during practice. However, with proper training and years of interacting with patients can provide them with the experience needed to approach and deal with ethical issues as they arise.


Haahr, A., Norlyk, A., Martinsen, B., & Dreyer, P. (2020). Nurses experiences of ethical dilemmas: a review. Nursing ethics27(1), 258-272.

Powell, S. B., Engelke, M. K., & Swanson, M. S. (2018). Moral distress among school nurses. The Journal of School Nursing34(5), 390-397.

Rainer, J., Schneider, J. K., & Lorenz, R. A. (2018). Ethical dilemmas in nursing: An integrative review. Journal of clinical nursing27(19-20), 3446-3461.

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