Public health nursing ethics in Canadian undergraduate nursing curricula




Ferreira, Carla

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Public health nurses (PHNs) encounter ethical issues in practice that are different than those faced by their acute care counterparts. In the nursing literature, PHNs reported that ethical issues often stemmed from their relationships with clients, which could be an individual, community, or population, and the system in which they practiced. Although nurses have analyzed ethical situations using traditional frameworks grounded in the four principles of bioethics, ethical issues in public health nursing tend to be more complex and therefore require ethical frameworks that acknowledge the values and principles held by PHNs. If ethics is a critical part of nursing practice, how is public health nursing ethics introduced to today’s nursing students in Canada? In this paper, I discuss the results of an online survey exploring public health nursing ethics content in Canadian nursing curricula. Respondents from 40 schools of nursing across Canada revealed that discussion of public health nursing ethics within their community health nursing courses is evolving. The participants indicated no consensus on how nursing students were introduced to and educated about public health nursing ethics. Also, in teaching public health nursing ethics, there was a lack of an ethical framework that reflected the values and principles of both public health and nursing ethics. What was frequently noted by participants was the use of a social justice focus in teaching about public health nursing and ethics. Also, implicit in the responses was a recognition of public health nursing practice as being highly relational, and as evident in the literature, a relational ethics framework is a good fit for public health nursing in addressing ethical issues in practice. The survey results can potentially pave the way for Schools of Nursing across Canada to examine how curricula can incorporate public health nursing ethics to support nursing students’ praxis. As well, the findings highlight the need for continued effort in promoting research in the area of public health nursing ethics, as one way to support PHN practice and develop an empowered and resilient public health workforce.



public health nursing, community health nursing, public health, community health nursing ethics, nursing education, nursing ethics