Bioethics Blogs

The Moral Agency of Institutions: Effectively Using Expert Nurses to Support Patient Autonomy

Guest Post: Sonya Charles

Article: The Moral Agency of Institutions: Effectively Using Nurses to Support Patient Autonomy

When you think of nurses, what do you think of?

Florence Nightingale? Nurse Ratchet?

A sassy, but competent woman in scrubs?

Popular culture has not always been kind to nurses and, even when it has, it rarely gives an accurate depiction of what nurses actually do. We might shrug off the misrepresentation of nursing as popular culture rarely gives an accurate depiction of many areas of life. Unfortunately, unlike other professions, these misconceptions of nursing spill over into nurses work environment as well.

In this paper, I consider how traditional views of nurses still undermine nurses’ professional autonomy. Certainly, those who work in modern hospitals have a better sense of what nurses do; however, the hospital, as an institution, is still set-up with a traditional hierarchy in mind. I argue that we need to shift hospital policies and power hierarchies such that nurses can achieve professional autonomy (both as a profession and as individual practitioners). Not only is this good for nurses, but it is also good for patients.

Recently, a woman won a $16 million dollars in a lawsuit against the hospital in which she gave birth. In the lawsuit, she argues that the hospital was marketed to women who wanted natural births. They claimed women would have access to birthing tubs and would have their birth plans respected. When she showed up, her experience was the exact opposite. She was denied the opportunity to birth in a tub and required to lay in bed hooked up to an electronic fetal monitor.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.