Nurses' Perceptions of Ethical Conflicts When Caring for Patients with COVID-19

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Mar 8;20(6):4763. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20064763.


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused ethical challenges and dilemmas in care decisions colliding with nurses' ethical values. This study sought to understand the perceptions and ethical conflicts faced by nurses working on the frontline during the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and the main coping strategies. A qualitative phenomenological study was carried out following Giorgi's descriptive phenomenological approach. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews until data saturation. The theoretical sample included 14 nurses from inpatient and intensive care units during the first and second waves of the pandemic. An interview script was used to guide the interviews. Data were analyzed following Giorgi's phenomenological method using Atlas-Ti software. Two themes were identified: (1) ethical conflicts on a personal and professional level; and (2) coping strategies (active and autonomous learning, peer support and teamwork, catharsis, focusing on care, accepting the pandemic as just another work situation, forgetting the bad situations, valuing the positive reinforcement, and humanizing the situation). The strong professional commitment, teamwork, humanization of care, and continuous education have helped nurses to deal with ethical conflicts. It is necessary to address ethical conflicts and provide psychological and emotional support for nurses who have experienced personal and professional ethical conflicts during COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; clinical ethics; duty of care; nursing ethic; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Nurses*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital* / psychology
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Care
  • Qualitative Research

Grants and funding

This work was sponsored by the University of Castilla-La Mancha (GRANT 2021-GRIN-31074).