Ethical practice in nursing: Working the in-betweens



Varcoe C, Doane G, Pauly B, Rodney P, Storch JL, Mahoney K, McPherson G, Brown H & Starzomski R (2004) Ethical practice in nursing: Working the in-betweens. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45 (3), pp. 316-325.

Background: While contemporary ethical theory is of tremendous value to nursing, the extent to which such theory has been informed by the concerns and practices of nurses has been limited. Purpose: With a view to complementing extant ethical theory, a study was undertaken to explore, from the perspective of nurses, the meaning of ethics and the enactment of ethical practice in nursing. Design and methods: Located in the interpretive/constructivist paradigm, using an emergent design, this inquiry employed focus groups to collect the data. Eighty-seven nurses from a wide range of practice settings were interviewed in 19 focus groups of three to nine nurses each. Findings: The nurses described ethics in their practice as both a way of being and a process of enactment. They described drawing on a wide range of sources of moral knowledge in a dynamic process of developing awareness of themselves as moral agents. Enacting moral agency involved working in a shifting moral context, and working in-between their own values and those of the organizations in which they worked, in-between their own values and those of others, and in-between competing values and interests. Conclusions: Analysis of the experiences and concerns of the nurses offered new understanding of ethics in nursing and direction for the development of ethical theory pertinent to nursing practice.

moral agency; ethical practice; ethical theory; nursing ethics; moral identity

Journal of Advanced Nursing: Volume 45, Issue 3

Publication date29/02/2004
Date accepted by journal31/07/2003
PublisherWiley Blackwell

People (1)


Professor Bernadette Pauly

Professor Bernadette Pauly

Honorary Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences