As nurses, it is important that we “be both empowered and competent enablers of patient empowerment.” (Burkhardt & Nathaniel, 2014, p. 493) We took an oath to follow an ethical code which requires us to act as our patient’s advocate while providing safe nursing care. Nevertheless, we cannot make every medical choice or decision on their behalf. We also cannot empower them, “because to do so removes the element of choice.” (Burkhardt & Nathaniel, 2014, p. 501) We can, however, “facilitate empowerment by working directly with patients and through addressing social, political, and environmental factors affecting empowerment of individuals and communities.” (Burkhardt & Nathaniel, 2014, p. 493) In this paper, I will discuss how nurses can provide empowerment, some of the issues and constraints affecting empowerment, and how I feel regarding empowerment in my workplace.
In order to facilitate patient empowerment, we must first be in position of self-empowerment. This requires us to self-reflect on our own values, beliefs, and ideas of power. “Nurses must also surrender their need for control, developing instead attitudes of collaboration and mutual participation in decision making.” (Burkhardt & Nathaniel, 2014, p. 517) We must understand that patients have the right to make their own decisions even if they differ from our own. Mutual respect for their thoughts, feelings, and decisions creates a trusting relationship. We must be able to openly listen to our patients needs and communicate effectively in order to empower our patients. They need to know that we are listening, that we understand, and that we are going to provide them with the knowledge and information needed to make their own choices. We must first be empowered in order to help empower them.
Empowering our patients can be very difficult when we are faced with institutional and professional constraints. One of the institutional constraints nurses face, is having the courage to stand up to the physicians. Throughout history, nurses have been made to feel like they are subordinate to physicians. Similarly, a professional constraint, which goes hand and hand with this, is a lack of moral courage. “Deciding whether to act with moral courage may be influenced by the degree of conflict between personal standards and organizational directives; by fear of retaliation, such as job termination; or lack of peer and/or leadership support. “(LaSala & Bjarnason, 2010, p. 1) In addition, patients that do not want to listen to the nurse and believe that only a doctor can help them make their medical decisions presents as another professional constraint. This is an exceptionally difficult professional constraint for the nurses “since physicians are perceived to be of higher rank, their influence often holds more sway than that of nurses who may challenge them” (ethics p. 498)....