1. Berte, Christine M.

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I've discovered through my teaching that ethical behavior is learned. Whether the predominance of this learning comes from immersion within a culture and family or from formal education, ethical behavior is a learned skill. Personal beliefs, values, and moral standards are shaped by cultural, familial, and social experience; political structures; religion; and more (Rosenkoetter & Milstead, 2010). These beliefs and values are students' framework as they enter advanced practice education. Professional ethics are developed by studying the history, values, philosophy, and discipline of nursing. Societal expectations of how nurses provide healthcare (Fowler, 2015), enhanced with the infusion of Christian beliefs, formulate expected ethical conduct in a graduate nursing curriculum.

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The concept of educating students for a profession dominated by ethical concerns, that depends on the belief that students have learned functional ethical behaviors only through their life experiences, would be seriously detrimental to the profession. Rosenkoetter and Milstead wrote, "Ethical dilemmas confronting today's graduate nursing students and faculty have become extraordinarily complicated" (2010, p. 137). Educators do well to challenge students to think about ethical issues and the decisions that evolve, and consequently impact, all involved. Education consists of learning to analyze issues, using moral and ethical directives that stem from personal standards and are enhanced by learned professional standards. These decisions, and the resulting outcomes, should be reflected and discussed to advance the ability to formulate ethical decisions.


To teach ethical leadership, educators should guide graduate students to explore their beliefs and belief origins. Once students are aware of personal standards, their reading, study, presentations, and discussions of dilemmas and outcomes increase their professional ethical decision-making. The challenge of the Christian educator would be to formulate a student's idea of professional ethics from a Christian worldview, without compromising their personal beliefs. The ability to bypass personal bias needs cultivation. The Christian belief of acceptance must be integrated into professional decision-making (Romans 15:5-7; Galatians 3:28).


Curriculum designed to teach ethical leadership should include an exploration of students' perceived style of leadership and resulting ethical behaviors. Professional content would introduce theoretical frameworks, characteristics of leadership types, and the responses expected by those being led. Readings to objectively learn this content and exploration through reflective work, group discussions, and directive exercises toward identified leadership characteristics, both positive and negative, would enhance learning. Ethical teaching should be present throughout the program and relative to the clinical settings. Park, and colleagues support this by writing,


"Ethics education with students having experiences with ethical issues in clinical practice may be more effective for developing moral reasoning skills because they can reflect on their previous experiences in ethics, ... reflection can reinforce the student's learning" (2012, p. 570).


Others believe that ethics should be taught as a separate entity, but the fact that ethical issues are related to physical, behavioral, and societal presentations of symptoms supports ethical teaching as a thread woven through every course.


Ethical leadership, a learned skill, builds on personal experience and exploration of responses to past leadership models. The development of ethical leadership is a fluid process. "The role of the nurse educator is to be a mentor, role model, information provider and someone who challenges students to think critically about their ethical decisions and the ethical concerns of others whom they encounter in professional practice" (Rosenkoetter & Milstead, 2010, p. 138). Throughout a student's education, educators have the responsibility to include this discipline. The outcome is to ensure well-educated advanced practice nurses equipped to make higher-level moral decisions.


Fowler M. (2015). Guide to nursing's social policy statement: Understanding the profession from social contract to social covenant. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association. [Context Link]


Park M., Kjervik D., Crandell J., Oermann M. H. (2012). The relationship of ethics education to moral sensitivity and moral reasoning skills of nursing students. Nursing Ethics, 19(4), 568-580. doi:10.1177/0969733011433922


Rosenkoetter M. M., Milstead J. A. (2010). A code of ethics for nurse educators: Revised. Nursing Ethics, 17(1), 137-139. doi:10.1177/0969733009350946 [Context Link]