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Nurse Role and Acting as a Patient Advocate

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In the mid 1970's, a nursing educator in Idaho had contact, through a student, with a female client who had chronic myelogenous leukemia. This form of leukemia can often be managed for years with little or no chemotherapy. The woman had done well for about twelve years and ascribed her good condition to health foods and a strict nutritional regime. However, her condition had turned worse several weeks before and her physician had advised her that she needed chemotherapy if she were to have any chance at survival. The physician had also advised her of the potential side effects of the therapy including hair loss, nausea, fever, and immune system suppression.

The woman consented to the therapy and signed the appropriate forms, but later, she began to have second thoughts. The nursing educator and student had given the patient one dose of the therapy when the woman began to cry and express her reservations about the therapy. She questioned the nurse about alternative treatments to the use of chemotherapy. The patient related that she had accepted the therapy because her son had advised her that this was the best treatment. She related that she had not asked about alternate forms of treatment as the physician had indicated that chemotherapy was the only treatment indicated. The nurse did not discuss the patient's concerns with the physician, and later that evening, she talked to the patient about alternate therapies. In the discussion, rather nontraditional and controversial therapies were covered including reflexology and the use of laetrile. During the talk, the nurse made it very clear that the treatments under discussion were not sanctioned by the medical community.

The patient's feelings toward alternate therapies were strengthened by the evening's conversation; however, she continued with chemotherapy. The treatments, however, did not bring remission to her crisis and she died two weeks later. Upon hearing about the conversation between the off duty nurse educator and his patient, the physician brought charges against the nurse for unprofessional conduct and interfering with the patient-physician relationship. (In re Tuma, 1977).

1. What, if anything, did the nurse do wrong?
2. Had she moved beyond her scope of practice?
3. Could the nurse's conduct be justified under the patient advocate portion of her role?
4. If you were a member of the state board for nursing and had to decide the issue of unprofessional conduct and interference with the patient-physician relationship, would you sanction the nurse?

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Updated website since November 2008 for Code of Ethics for nursing (see http://nursingworld.org/ethics/code/protected_nwcoe813.htm ), if the link in the attached response does not work.

I understand how you are having problems finding relevant information, because I could not locate much information on the role of the nurse, especially since she was off-duty, and if she could still act as an advocate for the patient, since that is part of her role (Please view this site and read the accompanying article: http://psychnursing.tripod.com/clientadvocate.html). Based on my information I could locate, the nurse might have been within her right if she was the patient's acting nurse, based on the principles of the nursing code of ethics. However, it might depend on the hospital's policies as well. However, you make a good point, how it might be interfering with the doctor-patient relationship and treatment types is a doctor's decision role.

Let's take a closer look by analyzing the problem first.

1. What, if anything, did the nurse do wrong?

a. This is an ethical issue not legal issue.

b. Does it make a difference that the nurse was off-duty when she talked to the patient? .

c. Ethical principles are ambiguous and there are no absolute right or wrong, as long as the Nurse engaged in a decision making process using the principles of her Code of Ethics as guiding principles for her decisions.

d. The nurse would be expected to engage in a reflective decision-making process using the principles listed in her Code of ...

Solution Summary

Based on this scenario, this solution is comprised of a 1000 word response addressing the questions posed about the nurse's role through applying the principles of the American Nursing Association Code of Ethics to the ethical problem. This solutions is supplemented with references for further information and research.

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