A comparison of ethical issues in nursing practice across nursing units

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Background:The complexity and variety of ethical issues in nursing is always increasing, and those issues lead to special concerns for nurses because they have critical impacts on nursing practice.Research objectives:The purpose of this study was to gather comprehensive information about ethical issues in nursing practice, comparing the issues in different types of nursing units including general units, oncology units, intensive care units, operating rooms, and outpatient departments.Research design:The study used a descriptive research design. Ethics/human rights issues encountered by nurses in their daily nursing practice were identified by using the Ethical Issues Scale.Participants:The study sample included 993 staff nurses working in a university hospital in South Korea.Ethical considerations:This study was approved by the University Institutional Review Board. Completed questionnaires were returned sealed with signed informed consent.Findings:The most frequently and disturbingly encountered issues across nursing units were ‘conflicts in the nurse-physician relationship,’ ‘providing care with a possible risk to your health,’ and ‘staffing patterns that limit patient access to nursing care.’ The findings of this study showed that nurses from different nursing units experienced differences in the types or frequency of ethical issues. In particular, intensive care units had the greatest means of all the units in all three component scales including end-of-life treatment issues, patient care issues, and human rights issues.Discussion:Nurses experienced various ethical challenges in their daily practice. Of the ethical issues, some were distinctively and frequently experienced by nurses in a specific unit.Conclusion:This study suggested that identifying and understanding specific ethical issues faced by nurses in their own areas may be an effective educational approach to motivate nurses and to facilitate nurses’ reflection on their experiences.

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