Self-care as an ethical obligation for nurses

Nurs Ethics. 2020 Jul 28;969733020940371. doi: 10.1177/0969733020940371. Online ahead of print.


As members of the largest and most trusted healthcare profession, nurses are role models and critical partners in the ongoing quest for the health of their patients. Findings from the American Nurses Association Health Risk Appraisal suggested that nurses give the best patient care when they are operating at the peak of their own wellness. They also revealed that 68% of the surveyed nurses place their patients' health, safety, and wellness before their own. Globally, several nursing codes of ethics include the requirement of self-care. Often, these codes embed the responsibility to protect and promote one's own health within the clearly described obligation to provide safe patient care. The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses is unique in that it states explicitly that nurses must adopt self-care as a duty to self in addition to their duty to provide care to patients. One of the basic assumptions of Watson's Philosophy and Science of Caring is that caring science is the essence of nursing and the foundational disciplinary core of the profession. Watson's theory of human caring provides support for the engagement in self-care. Two important value assumptions of Watson's Caritas are that "we have to learn how to offer caring, love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy to ourselves before we can offer authentic caring and love to others" and we also must "treat ourselves with loving-kindness and equanimity, gentleness, and dignity before we can accept, respect, and care for others within a professional caring-healing model." Embedded within several caritas processes is an outline for a holistic approach to caring for self and others that can guide nurses to improve their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Keywords: Caritas; Watson; duty; ethics; nursing; self-care.