Ethical Problems
Susan A. Salladay PhD, RN

February 2011 
Volume 41  Number 2
Pages 12 - 13
  PDF Version Available!

I'm the preceptor for a new graduate nurse on a med/surg unit. Jane (not her real name) is energetic, outgoing, fun to work with, and popular with patients and staff alike. Both her parents and an aunt are nurses, so she has a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes and homespun stories about the rewarding career of nursing.Yesterday, when a patient was nervous about her upcoming surgery, Jane tried to reassure her with a humorous tale about something silly the patient's surgeon once did in the OR, a story her aunt had told her. But her good intentions backfired. Now the patient's even more worried about the surgery and the surgeon is furious with Jane for giving his patient what he thinks was an unflattering view of him. Jane has asked me for advice. How should I handle the situation?-G.B., WASH.Whatever you call it-a "tale," a "story," or a "humorous anecdote"-it's gossip plain and simple. A nurse has gossiped about a surgeon to his patient and the information has caused both the surgeon and the patient distress.Help Jane to file an event/occurrence report. Seek assistance from the unit manager in helping Jane to write the report in such a way that the story in question won't continue to be repeated with damaging results.Also alert the facility's risk manager, who will take the lead in any apology given to the patient or surgeon according to facility policy. Risk managers are especially skilled in talking with angry patients and know how to minimize legal risks.As a preceptor, you should take the lead in educating this new graduate about professional nursing behavior. In this case, the surgeon has good reason to complain; he could argue that Jane's careless words have interfered with the physician-patient relationship, potentially exposing her to legal charges and jeopardizing her licensure. This new nurse showed poor judgment and needs a better understanding of her ethical and legal obligation to respect the privacy of patients and colleagues alike.The seriously ill

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