Lessons learned from nurses’ requests for ethics consultation: Why did they call and what did they value?

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An ongoing challenge for clinical ethics consultation is learning how colleagues in other healthcare professions understand, make use of, and evaluate clinical ethics consultation services.


In pursuing such knowledge as part of clinical ethics consultation service quality assessment, clinical ethics consultation services can learn important information about the issues and concerns that prompt colleagues to request ethics consultation. Such knowledge allows for greater outreach, education, and responsiveness by clinical ethics consultation services to the concerns of clinician colleagues.


This quality assessment project explores consultation requests and follow-up questionnaire responses voluntarily submitted from nurses who requested clinical ethics consultation. We present qualitative data analyzed using content analysis and constant comparison methods to identify key concerns that prompted requests as well as common themes among nurse requestors’ evaluations of what was most important in clinical ethics consultations.

Participants and context:

A total of 41 nurses requesting clinical ethics consultation and 15 who returned the follow-up questionnaire.

Ethical considerations:

Our Office of Research Compliance and Quality Improvement determined that our project was not considered human subjects research and so did not require institutional review board approval or exemption. However, efforts were made to avoid any sense of coercion and all data were de-identified prior to analysis.


Our analysis revealed six main categories of issues that prompted nurses’ requests for ethics consultation, as well as unifying themes around nurses’ experiences, advocacy, and family support while caring for patients in the intersections of patients, families, and physicians.


The insights gained from analyzing nurses’ requests for and responses to clinical ethics consultation may serve as a resource for clinical ethics consultation services seeking to identify, respond to, and educate regarding issues of importance to nurse colleagues and may be a resource for nursing administrators and leadership seeking to identify and address common ethical issues nurses face.


Ongoing work on clinical ethics consultation service quality improvement and engagement with our nursing colleagues about their concerns prompting—and their evaluations of—clinical ethics consultation are necessary.

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