Registered Nurses' personal rights vs. professional responsibility in caring for members of underserved and disenfranchised populations

Claire D Martino Maze
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2005, 14 (5): 546-54

AIMS: Health disparities exist and refer to the chasms in health status between the advantaged and disadvantaged. Intense multiculturalism will require different approaches and moral obligations to work with these groups and urgency exists to develop nursing caring strategies when dealing with these populations. Development of nursing curricula which identify prejudicial thinking and intolerance for marginalized groups will help to decrease fears and increase nurses' willingness to provide culturally competent health care for underserved and disenfranchised populations.

BACKGROUND: Caring for members of disenfranchised groups instills fear at some level in nurses who are working with these individuals. This fear may be due, in part, to the potential harm nurses perceive the patient may cause them, or perhaps it is because they feel they could possibly be in the individual's situation at some point in their lives. Prejudice and discrimination continue to exist in society and have adversely affected the health care system and the nursing profession. Discrimination may be based on differences due to age, ability, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any characteristics by which people differ.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Registered Nurses are accountable for nursing decisions and actions regardless of personal preferences. Due to the rapidly changing healthcare system the nurse faces increasing ethical dilemmas and human rights issues. Nurses are individually accountable for caring for each patient and the right to refuse an assignment should be carefully interpreted to avoid patient abandonment. Nurses' objections can be based on moral, ethical, or religious beliefs not on personal preferences and in an emergency the nurse must provide treatment regardless of any personal objections.

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