Nurses long have dealt with issues pertaining to ethics. And as advances in medicine continue, the number of ethical issues continues to grow.
The degree to which nurses care about, and are affected by, ethics issues became evident in March when the American Nurses Association and the California-based Ethics of Caring hosted the first National Nursing Ethics Conference in Los Angeles. The conference produced what planning committee member Lucia Wocial, RN, PhD, described as “energy that was palpable in the room” as bedside nurses openly shared experiences that deeply touched them and learned from one another.
That conference has spawned two ethics conferences in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region in November, with the hope that a national conference will take place every two years, rotating between the East and West coasts.
A self-described “ethics geek,” Wocial, nurse ethicist for Indiana University Health and a professor at the IU School of Nursing, is in charge of the 2013 national conference planning committee. Although a theme has not been selected for the 2013 event in Washington, D.C., Wocial knows what she took from this year’s conference.
“We’re definitely going to keep the focus on people who have direct contact with patients,” Wocial said. “Those are the people who have to face ethics challenges and who are significantly affected by the ethics issues that they endure in their clinical practices.
“Ethics is an intensely personal journey, and most people have a story to tell. This conference, like the past, will be very intentional about providing every and any opportunity for people to be a part of small-group discussions that are focused and facilitated and guided.”
Among the speakers at this year’s national conference, titled “Advocacy — Making a Difference for Patients,” was Carol Taylor, RN, PhD, CSFN, professor in the Department of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Taylor said the conference “was a phenomenal success” because it focused on the concerns that most affect bedside nurses.
“We had nurses who said, ‘This is the best conference I’ve ever been to,'” she said, “because it was all about: What are their issues? What resources are out there? And how can we help people?
“Nurses are the bridge between an incredibly vulnerable public and this huge array of resources that are being spit out every day,” Taylor said in reference to fields such as new genetics tests, critical care modalities, chemotherapy and reproduction. “As nurses, to the extent they value helping people make decisions that serve their interests, workplace environments have become so busy that there’s a lot of challenges in trying to play that advocacy role effectively.”
Taylor, founding member of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown, will speak at both upcoming local conferences, beginning with the “Moral Agency and Moral Distress” symposium Nov. 7 at Inova Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church, Va.
Patricia O’Donnell, PhD, LICSW, director of the Inova Health System Center for Ethics, which is hosting the symposium, said the event “will provide insight into the phenomena of moral distress and practical approaches to engage moral agency at the individual and organizational levels to resolve problems.”
The event is open to healthcare workers beyond nursing, and O’Donnell said it should be “useful for the challenges of current everyday clinical and administrative practice.”
Georgetown University Hospital’s Division of Nursing Education and Professional Development Council will host “Much to Do About Everything! Advocating for Patients and Nurses: Everyday Ethical Challenges” Nov. 10.
The conference is aimed at nurses who were unable to attend the national conference, Taylor said.
“Nurses can’t advocate effectively for the public if someone doesn’t advocate for them,” Taylor said. “So we’re concluding this conference with a session on self-care and care for other members of the team.”
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.