A review of the formal ethics consultations performed at a rural academic medical center during 2006 revealed that only 5 of 72 consultations were initiated by nurses. A descriptive exploratory convenience study used a 3-item survey to collect information from registered nurses who provide direct patient care at the rural academic medical center. The purpose of this study was to (1) identify and describe the ethical issues perceived by registered nurses employed at a rural academic medical center and (2) analyze the variables influencing the registered nurses' ethical decision making and the process used by these registered nurses when resolving ethical issues.
The 17 registered nurses who completed the survey identified a total of 21 ethical issues that they had experienced during the last year. The ethical issues that nurses recalled were significantly more likely to be relationship issues, whereas issues documented within the ethics consultation service were significantly more likely to involve limiting treatment. Communication was a major variable influencing nurse's ethical decision making. Nurses felt the ethical issue resolved satisfactorily when the patient's needs were met, communication occurred with the patient and/or family, the entire healthcare team was involved and in agreement, and there was sufficient time available to make a decision. The nurses did not feel that the ethical situation was resolved satisfactorily when not handled from the patient's perspective; the patient suffered; there was a lack of teamwork, agreement, and/or support; and the process took too long. The nurses' recommendations for resources needed to assist with the resolution of ethical issues included accessible ethics mechanisms, education, improved interprofessional relationships and collaboration, and unbiased support for patient and family decision making. Implications for nurse managers are discussed and future research questions are identified.