Ethical issues for nursing students

Written by sarah arnette
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Ethical issues for nursing students
Nurses often find themselves in complex ethical situations. (nurse chris image by John Keith from

Nursing students face a large number of ethical issues, both in their capacity as students and throughout their clinical training. Some issues are specific to nursing, and others are the kinds of issues all students face. Nursing students need to understand these issues, and to know where they can turn for assistance in making these difficult decisions.

Educational Ethics

Many students, both nursing and non-nursing, have ethical concerns such as cheating or plagiarism. It can be tempting to use an old paper from a former student or to take the answers to a test that is being offered by another class, for example. These kinds of ethical issues can plague a nursing student from the beginning of the educational process until graduation.

Informed Consent

In the nursing field and clinicals, nurses must secure an informed consent before a procedure is done on the patient. This is true for simple procedures such as IV installation as well as for surgical procedures. There is always the risk that the nurse might not know enough about the procedure to be qualified to obtain that consent. In addition, a nurse might be afraid to ask for consent when told to perform a procedure by the medical professionals instructing the nurse.

Document Forgery

Forgery is a serious ethical issue. This involves not only copying a signature, but also signing a document without actually completing the process dictated in the paper. For example, a nursing student might be asked to write notes on a chart of a patient that he has not seen. Writing the notes on a chart after the fact also can be considered document forgery. This can cause difficulty in treating the patient later on, and it can cause people to believe the patient was seen at a time when he really was not seen.

Crying Wolf

Ethical issues can come up for nursing students dealing with patients who "cry wolf," or complain of pain they don't really have. This becomes an ethical issue for the nurse as he struggles to decide whether to report these pains to his clinical trainer or to ignore them as attention-seeking behaviours. He also needs to decide whether these complaints are made for the purpose of seeking drugs, and he needs to know how to identify drug-seeking patients.

Finding Help

It is important that nursing students remember that their instructors and peers either have been or currently are where they are. This allows the nursing student to discuss the ethical issues and moral conflicts that she might be experiencing. This can help the nurse develop a strong ethical base, and it also might help other nurses in similar situations.

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