Moral Courage – Finding the Strength to Stand Up

Healthcare Training Resource
August 16, 2013 — 1,816 views  
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In its broadest sense, moral courage is a measure of the fortitude of character a person has which enables him to act according to his moral consciousness, despite all risks of negative consequences. It is a powerful tool that helps individuals reach out to help and stand up for those who are being bullied and ill treated, either emotionally, physically, or mentally. Moral courage is also a professional virtue which needs to be followed religiously by all professionals.

The Meaning of Moral Courage for Nurses and Health Care Professionals

Dr. Ruth Purtilo has deemed moral courage a virtue that is absolutely necessary for nurses and all healthcare professionals. She noted that nurses’ moral courage is an asset not only for themselves but also for their patients. These morally courageous nurses will be the ones who will always keep the best interest of their patients in mind, standing up for the rights of the patients and making sure they receive the best of possible treatment and care.

In the nursing industry specially, numerous situations call for such courage from nurses. Consider as examples situations where nurses would be required to disclose bad news about a faulty diagnosis or situations where they need to face angry relatives, confront a colleague who is engaging in irresponsible negligent behavior, question the unethical practices they see in the facility, or even tend to a patient who is infectious.

The Need to be Morally Courageous

In many situations, moral courage shown by a nurse becomes instrumental in saving and shaping a patient’s life. In a health care facility where all hopes of an individual’s life and death are trusted in the hands of the health care personnel, negligent and dishonorable actions by unscrupulous professionals is a vice. The moral courage of nurses will help keep their own vices as well as those of their colleagues in check, in the best interest of the patients.

The need to display moral courage also has a more personal dimension. Witnessing wrong and unlawful as well as un-ethical practices and not doing anything about it can lead to moral distress. We are all essentially good people who are bound to suffer negative outcomes like burnout, stress, deep moral and physical fatigue by ignoring our inner moral voices and shutting them up.

Showing Moral Courage the Right Way

Moral courage is a virtue that is inherent in people who have even the smallest tinge of a conscience. The need is to be able to let it out. Standing up and raising your voice against bad practices is never a cake walk. Particularly in organizations which are defensive, unsupportive, and tend to potentially punish those who raise a voice, being morally courageous can be quite difficult. 

The trick however is to remember that he who sees others suffer is as much of a sinner as he who makes others suffer. Impulsive actions in such situations often do more harm than good and so nurses must carefully deliberate, plan and then act according to their moral code of conduct. This also requires appropriate professional wisdom, an intellective virtue which will ensure they demonstrate their moral courage in the least destructive way.  

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