You are on page 1of 3

Courage - According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, courage can adhere willingness

to the nurses to do obligations professionally.

- Aristotle defined courage as the balance between cowardice and rashness.

He believed that the virtue of courage must be understood as both an end in
itself and a means to a more wide-ranging good. He saw courage as
necessary for achievement of all other virtues.

Sample situations:

The first case study focuses on the need for moral courage in the dying patient,
where the right action is supporting the patient's expressed wishes. The second case will
spotlight the nurse's ethical responsibilities when the new nurse manager is asked to do
something unethical.

1. Moral Courage with a Dying Patient

Mr. T. is an 82-year-old widower who has been a patient on your unit several
times over the past 5 years. His CHF, COPD, and diabetes have taken a toll on his body.
He now needs oxygen 24 hours a day and still has dyspnea and tachycardia at rest. On
admission, his ejection fraction is less than 20%, EKG shows a QRS interval of greater
than 0.13 seconds, and his functional class is IV on NYHA assessment. He has remained
symptomatic despite maximum medical management with a vasodilator and diuretics. He
tells you, "This is my last trip; I am glad I have made peace with my family and God.
Nurse, I am ready to die." You ask about an advance directive and he tells you his son
knows that he wants no heroics, but they just have never gotten around to filling out the
form. When the son arrives, you suggest that he speak with the social worker to complete
the advance directive and he agrees reluctantly. You page the physician to discuss DNR
status with the son. Unfortunately, Mr. T. experiences cardiac arrest before the discussion
occurs and you watch helplessly as members of the Code Blue Team perform
resuscitation. Mr. T. is now on a ventilator and the son has dissolved into tears with cries
of, "Do not let him die!"

How is this situation related to courage?

The nurse knows the son will need help in letting go of his father and asks if he
would like her to call his sister and pastor. The nurse also musters the courage to start a
conversation with the physician and discovers that Mr. T. has been his patient for 20
years. Though both physician and son initially are defensive, the nurse's assertiveness and
perseverance get results. Mr. T. is removed from the ventilator 24 hours later. He dies
peacefully in the presence of his family and physician.

2. Moral Courage to Confront Unethical Behavior In Management

Sarah was promoted to nurse manager because of her excellence in delivering
patient care and recognized leadership ability. She was a preceptor, excellent charge
nurse, outstanding patient advocate, and chair of the practice council. Sarah has been a
medical-surgical nurse for over 10 years and loves the variety of patients under her care.
She only recently completed her BSN degree and earned her certification in medical-
surgical nursing. When Sarah was in her position for less than 3 months, her immediate
supervisor moved to another state because of his wife's promotion. This individual had
been a mentor, confidant, and recognized leader in the organization. Sarah tried to make
the best of the situation and follow the direction of her new supervisor. However, right
from the beginning, she found this individual to be very focused on the negative. As an
optimistic person, Sarah found this approach counter to her basic instincts about people.

Every time she tried to discuss this difference in approach, her director would say
she was naive and that the staff was taking advantage of her good nature. The director
used several of her recent project failures to justify her position. However, Sarah
understood that these disappointments had been the result of staff illness and institutional

The crisis point was reached when the director told her to get rid of two staff
members who were the most vocal in their dissatisfaction with the reorganization. These
individuals are excellent clinical nurses, well-liked by staff, and each has over 12 years of
seniority in the organization. Sarah knew that the director did not like these nurses for
reasons unrelated to reorganization and their performance. After her third sleepless night,
she comes to you to ask for guidance.

How is this situation related to courage?

Sarah is obligated to take this issue to the appropriate person because firing
people for prejudicial reasons is unethical. It will take courage for her to say "no" to her
supervisor and possibly even more courage to voice her concerns to the chief nursing
officer. However, she has a professional responsibility to maintain her integrity, tell the
truth, and resolve issues that threaten a moral practice environment.

Other simple acts of courage:

Courage in Clinical Care

Routinely, clinicians are faced with dilemmas and ethical issues that require high
levels of courage to do the right thing. An addicted patient suffering from the withdrawal
of pain medication will test the nurse's courage. Being with a patient who is dying a
difficult death takes high levels of courage for the nurse. Advocating for the patient's
right to die takes courage. And telling a mother the truth -- that her child received the
wrong medication -- requires tremendous courage and a strong commitment to integrity.

It takes courage to stop a physician when she has not done proper handwashing
between patients. When conversations between professionals in elevators about patients
can be overheard, it takes courage to remind these people that they are violating a
patient's confidentiality in a public place. And it takes real courage to question a very
assertive, aggressive physician who has just written an inaccurate order.

With peers, fellow nurses, fellow managers, subordinates, and bosses, it takes
courage to advocate for safe staffing levels, to confront someone who is diverting
supplies, or to tell a colleague he is not meeting performance standards. And now with
the issues surrounding corporate compliance programs, we are being held to an even
higher level of accountability. In health care, we have many opportunities to test our
courage because of the complexity of our work and the heterogeneity of our work force.
Therefore, we have a serious obligation to prepare and support staff to act with courage,
to not be fearful of doing the right thing, and to develop cultures that drive out fear and
support courageous acts.