As a nurse, you understand that no two situations are the same. While you may have a familiar set of symptoms, a protocol to follow and a routine for care, each patient brings his or her own set of factors that add complexity to your job. Sometimes the line between right and wrong is not easy to recognize.

While you may spend much of your shift examining unique circumstances and deciding the best way to proceed, you know you must act within a code of ethics. Violating the ethical code for nurses can result in serious consequences for your patient and your career.

Telling too much or not enough

Perhaps one of the most common ethical concerns is maintaining patient privacy. Federal laws require you to keep health care information private, but this is not always as easy as it sounds. A difficult case or challenging patient may make you want to vent to your coworkers or even post about it on social media. These can be breaches of your ethical obligation to protect your patients’ rights to privacy. Here are other examples:

  • Relating results of medical tests over the phone to family members of a patient
  • Allowing co-workers access to confidential patient information
  • Leaving your computer screen visible to others
  • Discussing patient care with members of the patient’s medical team where others may overhear

In addition to sharing patient information, another ethical violation is to withhold important information from a patient, such as a negative prognosis. This may occur if family members ask you to keep the information from the patient or to downplay the seriousness of test results. Failing to share this information with patients prevents them from making knowledgeable decisions or learning about their options.

You have rights

Your personal beliefs will not always be the same as your patients’ beliefs. If your assignment places you in situations where patient care challenges your personal beliefs, you may want to discuss this with your employer. It may be difficult to participate in some procedures or to care for certain patients, but refusing to do so may be a serious ethical violation.

Allegations of ethics violations can have varied consequences. You may face disciplinary actions from your employer. The California Board of Registered Nursing may threaten to impose sanctions. You may even face the possibility of a lawsuit. You do not have to deal with these consequences on your own. At the earliest moments after learning that you are under investigation for ethics violations, you would be wise to seek experienced and aggressive legal counsel.