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Legal and Ethical Issues in Nursing

There’s no question that the medical profession is a life-saving one. However, when you’re dealing with issues that are directly related to people’s health, sometimes there can be conflicts. And if those things are not properly addressed, it can lead to a series of legal and ethical issues; especially if you’re a doctor or nurse.

So, if you’re currently studying to become a nurse or you’ve just recently landed a job at a hospital, doctor’s office or even a school or assisted living facility, we wanted to provide you with a list of some of the most common legal and ethical issues that nurses face; just so that you can be prepared should any of these arise.

The doctor makes a mistake on a chart. Although doctors are usually cautious to double-check the directions that they give, sometimes they can make a mistake. If they cannot be reached or they are not on-call, as a nurse, you may have to decide if you should change the chart yourself or wait for them. It can be a delicate situation because either decision could put you in a bit of a legal bind. The first one with the doctor, the second one with the patient.

The patient refuses a certain kind of care. When you have a patient who is within your care, it is up to you to give them the best treatment as possible. Sometimes, though, they will not agree with you about what that is and so they may refuse to take a certain kind of medicine, etc. If you insist on them going against their personal judgment, that could result in a legal battle.

The entire hospital gets sued for malpractice. A part of the reason why hospitals have so much liability insurance is because they need the protection should they end up getting sued for malpractice. When this happens, oftentimes everyone who was directly involved in a particular patient’s case will be named in the lawsuit. This would include the nurses who were assigned or on-call.

There is a debate in front of the patient. When a patient is receiving treatment, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re already a bit anxious; therefore, it’s important that you don’t get into debates with them or other members of the medical team in their presence. When a patient feels like they are not in a competent medical atmosphere or that they are being personally attacked, they may want to take legal action.

There is a difference in ethical perspectives. Whether you went to a website like to get information on how to become a certified nursing assistant or you attended a four-year college in order to earn your nursing degree, one thing that your instructors will talk to you about is ethics. Although you may have personal views (such as you may be pro-life while treating people who have had abortions), it is important that you don’t impose them on your patients or treat them any differently than anyone else assigned to you. If for someone reason, a patient feels like you did, that also could lead to a legal issue.

Although there are times when you may feel like you’ve done all that you could and a lawsuit was still filed, it’s important to keep these kinds of legal and ethical nursing issues in mind. The more prepared you are, the more challenges you can avoid and the easier it will be to do your job. And do it well.

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